BLOGS

Movies Without Pity

Machete Kills: Oops, He Did It Again

by Ethan Alter October 11, 2013 6:00 am
<i>Machete Kills</i>: Oops, He Did It Again

If Robert Rodriguez decides to stop helming features -- and, based on Machete Kills, he really should -- he's got a big future ahead of him as a director of trailers. The guy is truly gifted at cutting two-minute assemblies of bad-ass money shots and surprise superstar cameos that get you supremely pumped for the movies, which almost inevitably disappoint by comparison. In fact, pretty much every film he's ever made (with the exception of the first two Spy Kids outings as well as his underrated high school teens vs. alien teachers flick The Faculty) plays best as a coming attraction, a format that allows him to fully indulge what he does best (cool action beats, gonzo one-shot gags and gorgeous actresses striking pin-up girl poses) without having to sweat the stuff he has little to no interest in, like storytelling or world-building.

And it's worth remembering that trailers are how this particular franchise got its start, with a killer teaser that played at the top of Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's super-sized team-up Grindhouse and that proved to be significantly better than the full-length Machete feature, which belatedly came along three years later. Machete Kills is also topped by the trailer that precedes the movie proper, a clip for a third Machete bloodbath, which sends Danny Trejo's unstoppable, unkillable Mexican assassin to -- where else? -- outer space. Packed with gravity-defying bits of mayhem, hot girls in space bikinis and obligatory Star Wars references, this trailer is funnier than anything that follows… especially when it becomes clear that the entire 107-minute feature is just an extra-long trailer for the movie that was teased before the credits.

I don't know why I should continue to expect anything more from Rodriguez at this point. Where Tarantino learned something from Grindhouse's box-office nosedive -- namely, to take his exploitation movie aesthetic and apply it to more high-minded subjects like the Holocaust and slavery, an approach that has yielded massive critical and commercial success -- his partner has doubled down on the kind of self-aware buffoonery present in his half of the double-bill, Planet Terror, an overlong skit that's fun the first time around, but reveals its inanity on subsequent re-watches. Machete Kills isn't even any fun upon your initial viewing; it's an endless carnival of Rodriguez's familiar obsessions that drags on and on, stifling much of the humor under the grinding wheels of tedium. Even the gags that played so well in the trailer -- including Sofia Vergara's machine-gun jubblies, Machete tying some dude's intestines around a whirling helicopter blade and Charlie Sheen as the President -- are flatter than Amber Heard without a push-up bra in the actual feature.

Rodriguez's preference for "Ain't it cool?" over "Ain't it coherent?" storytelling is evident in the way Machete Kills turns out to be two different movies smashed together into one. The first half sends Machete into Mexico to find and retrieve a Bond-style supervillain with multiple personality disorder (Demián Bichir, who seems to be enjoying himself, at least), a mission authorized by the President and overseen by a field agent posing as a beauty queen (Heard). As you might expect, this snatch-and-grab job is frequently punctuated by gunfire and bloodshed, much of it doled out by Machete, but also by a chameleon-like assassin who is on his tail and, at various points in the movie, dons and sheds the faces of Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lady Gaga and Antonio Banderas.

Once Machete crosses the border, though, Bichir's loose-cannon villain exits the frame and is promptly replaced the movie's actual Big Bad, Voz (Mel Gibson), a reclusive weapons manufacturer currently who is building a space refuge for himself and his disciples to escape the global apocalypse he intends to start. At this point, Machete Kills goes from a violence-laden road comedy to a soundstage-bound talk-at-thon with Gibson yammering endlessly away at the perpetually stone-faced and silent Trejo -- who has a great screen presence, but works best in small doses -- about his nefarious plans. (It's not unlike the massive tonal and narrative shift that From Dusk Till Dawn takes halfway through, suddenly morphing from a criminals-on-the-lam piece to a balls-to-the-wall vampire picture. But that film had Tarantino's script, George Clooney's charisma, some wicked kills and Salma Hayek at the peak of her Salma Hayek-ness working in its favor. And, once again, the trailer gives you all of that without any of the finished product's dead spots and dated '90s flourishes.) It's only in the last 15 minutes that Gibson finally gives his vocal cords a rest and flees into Earth's upper atmosphere to set up the Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger that will supposedly be resolved in the next movie.

That is, if there even is a next movie, a privilege that Machete Kills certainly doesn't earn. Stretching an already thin concept well past its breaking point, the film undermines whatever satirical points Rodriguez scored with the initial trailer -- and, to a lesser extent, the previous film. Flawed though it was, Machete had an undercurrent of relevance, filtering the current immigration debate through a grindhouse lens. That theme recurs here every now and then, but mostly as an afterthought to the director's slobbery fanboy fascination with bullets and boobs, both of which dominate every frame. (Given that he directed her as a child, it's more than a little creepy to see ex-Spy Kid Alexa Vega strutting through the movie with her cleavage and ass hanging out for Rodriguez's camera.) Grindhouse and Machete were satires of exploitation films; Machete Kills is simple exploitation -- both of the cast (especially the actresses) and the audience's goodwill.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

Keep up with Movies Without Pity on Facebook and Tumblr

Think you've got game? Prove it! Check out Games Without Pity, our new area featuring trivia, puzzle, card, strategy, action and word games -- all free to play and guaranteed to help pass the time until your next show starts.

Comments

SHARE THE SNARK

X

Get the most of your experience.
Share the Snark!

See content relevant to you based on what your friends are reading and watching.

Share your activity with your friends to Facebook's News Feed, Timeline and Ticker.

Stay in Control: Delete any item from your activity that you choose not to share.

MOST RECENT POSTS

BLOG ARCHIVES

Movies Without Pity

March 2014

16 ENTRIES

February 2014

22 ENTRIES

January 2014

21 ENTRIES

December 2013

25 ENTRIES

November 2013

21 ENTRIES

October 2013

26 ENTRIES

September 2013

16 ENTRIES

August 2013

22 ENTRIES

July 2013

22 ENTRIES

June 2013

21 ENTRIES

May 2013

22 ENTRIES

April 2013

19 ENTRIES

March 2013

28 ENTRIES

February 2013

16 ENTRIES

January 2013

16 ENTRIES

December 2012

21 ENTRIES

November 2012

19 ENTRIES

October 2012

20 ENTRIES

September 2012

19 ENTRIES

August 2012

19 ENTRIES

July 2012

17 ENTRIES

June 2012

24 ENTRIES

May 2012

21 ENTRIES

April 2012

22 ENTRIES

March 2012

26 ENTRIES

February 2012

25 ENTRIES

January 2012

25 ENTRIES

The Latest Activity On TwOP