Starring Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, Amber Heard, Carlos Estevez/Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Jessica Alba, Demián Bichir, Alexa Vega, Vanessa Hudgens, Cuba Gooding, Jr., William Sadler, Marko Zaror, Mel Gibson
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Robert Rodriguez is quickly becoming known for creating throwback exploitation (or Mexploitation) with modern tech placing these films firmly in the digital age while also reminding us of a time when drive-ins ruled and stuntmen were gods. Troublemaker Studios and its full service facilities allow Rodriguez and company to actually follow through with turning a mock trailer into a feature, and although the first installment, Machete, felt somewhat lazy and uninspired, Machete Kills doesn’t feel like an afterthought at all. Well, at least the last half doesn’t.
The opening of Machete Kills almost feels like something that might start playing if you rolled past the end credits for Machete – like some hidden track that’s never as good as the rest of the album. If the first film felt too hokey and passe, the first digital reel of Kills has more where that came from ad nauseam. Feeling disjointed, and moving from scene to scene only to introduce the endless barrage of celebrity cameos (are they really in it long enough for it to be an actual part?), Machete (Danny Trejo) looks like he’s on an endless assembly line world tour as he’s ordered to go to – or kidnapped and brought to – various whorehouses, warehouses, mansions (even The White House), and top secret bunkers. He’s a legendary killer so of course people are just dying to show him around! He’s unkillable, like a luchador Jason Voorhees, but everyone wants to take a shot at him nevertheless.
William Sadler, Sofia Vergara, Walt Goggins, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and even Lady Gaga all take their chances trying to get the jump on Machete or track him down to put an end to his legend once and for all – but Machete is on a mission. He’s reluctant, but when the POTUS (played by “newcomer” Carlos Estevez) tells you to track down a seemingly ruthless kingpin named Mendez the Madman (Demian Bichir) who has his heart rigged to trigger a nuclear missile, what choice do you really have? As Machete stoically embarks on said mission, a conspiracy is revealed that could result in the Earth’s destruction if Machete and his ragtag counterparts (yes, Michelle Rodriguez is back as She) can’t stop philanthropist Luther Voz (Mel Gibson!) – a man with a serious case of space madness.
Bringing new meaning to the term “stunt casting,” Machete Kills almost wears you down with the opening title sequence alone. The sheer number of stars in this film rival the actual number of stars that reside up in space – the final frontier that also happens to be the setting for the next installment of the Machete franchise. Rodriguez has learned to capitalize on his ability to get big-name actors in and out of wardrobe with lightening speed, but it starts to feel like you’re watching outtakes rather than an actual story because each celebrity barely has time to walk into frame before Rodriguez moves on to the next scene.
Smartly, Rodriguez cast Bichir in one of the biggest roles outside of Trejo’s, and his schizophrenic charm is one of the film’s strong suits as the actor shows star charisma. Most exciting, however, is the inclusion of martial arts whiz Marko Zaror (Kiltro, Mirage Man) as a Jackie Chan-esque villain that keeps showing up just when you thought he was a little underused in the last scene. Tom Savini (thank god) is also back, and he’s as delightful as ever. Then there’s Alexa Vega. Oh. My. Lord.
But it’s Mel Gibson that turns the tide, and it’s his appearance that switches the tired borderline conflict into an all-out genre mashup that takes things into more sci-fi territory. Gibson shines in the role and seems to genuinely be having fun. Instead of his presence feeling like a penance for wrongdoing, Gibson grabs each scene by the balls and it’s hard not to like him in this. Seriously, try.
Thankfully, when Machete Kills does embark into new territory, the old flourishes and inventiveness of Robert Rodriguez are on full display during some sequences, with the creativity of Spy Kids dovetailing with the gory anarchy and fun spirit of Planet Terror.
Strangely, the conclusion feels like a cross between Team America and Elysium where a group of determined minorities and a crazy white guy who wants to destroy the Earth by waging world war all try to escape into space in order to start again on an elite space station. While the beginning of Machete Kills feels like more of the same derivative paint-by-numbers scenes and limp pacing to a degree, the last half achieves liftoff and feels, dare I say, almost inspired in some moments. Surprisingly, Machete Kills Again … In Space might actually be worth getting excited about because it seems like Rodriguez and Trejo might finally be excited, too.
3 out of 5