Friday, October 11, 2013

Back to the Grind: Joke loses steam quickly in "Machete Kills"

Machete Kills (2013) 
107 min., rated R.

Who knew that what started as a hilariously crowd-cheering faux trailer for 2007's "Grindhouse," Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's double feature of a drive-in opus, would inspire a feature-length movie, let alone a sequel? Director Rodriguez somehow filled out the joke with 2010's "Machete," which was a blast of brazenly schlocky, giddily violent and excessive trash with a wink. By the end of that film, Rodriguez promised "Machete Kills" and "Machete Kills Again," and, well, for the former, he didn't break his promise. This time, the exploitation driver is pushing it to the brink and spreading a tight trailer too thin. If anyone is wondering at what point does a movie that's supposed to be a deliberately bad and self-consciously goofy B-movie homage actually become a chore to watch, "Machete Kills" makes a strong case.

Last time we rode with federal-agent-turned-badass Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo), he rode off into the sunset with Migration Customs Enforcer and girlfriend Sartana (Jessica Alba). Now, after she is slain during an ambush with the military selling weapons to a drug cartel, Machete meets with President Ratchcock (Charlie Sheen, or, as he's introduced under his birth name, Carlos Estevez). He's promised American citizenship and his criminal record wiped clean if he takes out split-personality madman Marcos Mendez (Demian Bichir), who has a bomb trigger attached to his ticker and a missile aimed at Washington, D.C. With beauty pageant bombshell Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) appointed as his undercover handler, Machete is off to the U.S./Mexico border to grab Mendez. Of course, along the way, he falls into the crosshairs of bordello madame Desdemona (Sofía Vergara), who exacts revenge on every man for being a man, and a chameleonic bounty hunter with an ever-changing face. All along, though, the real bad guy is arms-dealing mastermind Luther Voz (Mel Gibson) who's launched another terror conspiracy.

Something is off when the aesthetically scratchy fake coming attraction of "Machete Kills Again…In Space" comes off being more consistently gonzo, campy, and outrageously fun in a lickety-split 3 minutes than the real 107-minute main attraction itself. Ridiculously violent and just plain ridiculous, "Machete Kills" is too much of a good thing that you can just see Rodriguez throwing everything at the wall with sheer abandon and little care. Don't be led astray, there are moments of unbridled lunacy and amusing overkill (a bit with a man's intestines and a helicopter propeller, the use of an "inside out" ray gun, and a little play time with a Swiss Army machete spring to mind), but it all runs out of steam as a grindingly padded feature. Robert Rodriguez and screenwriter Kyle Ward surely shoot their wad with more story threads, which means shoehorning in more gimmicky celebrity cameos than they know what to do with.

The 69-year-old Danny Trejo is being Danny Trejo, stoically deadpan and craggy-faced as always; here as Machete, he never cracks a smile or sheds a tear, not even after he's just lost his girlfriend. Michelle Rodriguez makes a return as one-eyed taco-stand vendor/revolutionary leader Luz, but she doesn't show up until late in the game, only bringing anything in her stand-off with the sexy, cheeky Heard, who more than holds her own. Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas make up one bizarre character, taking the unmaskings from "Scooby-Doo" to a literal level in one of the film's few creative ideas. The rest of the cast is just okay, showing up in no-account roles and nothing more. Mel Gibson is obviously relishing the opportunity to ham it up, but the part of Voz could have been played by anyone. Charlie Sheen, or Carlos Estevez, playing an unlikely POTUS is funny in concept, but there's really no humor in him poking fun at his image anymore. A vamped-up Sofía Vergara starts out intriguingly unhinged, as she shares a story about why she became a man-eater, but soon after turns into an embarrassingly shrill harpy with firearms attached to her breasts and crotch. Bringing up the rear is Alexa Vega, who played one of the kids in Rodriguez's "Spy Kids" movies in what seems very long ago because here, she's old enough to play a prostitute sporting cleavage and chaps.

What should have just been zippy, bananas, over-the-top grindhouse fun grows repetitive and convoluted, and that's a bummer. If its predecessor laid on the ham with a loud and proud social message about immigration, this one is an unabashed free-for-all of severed bodies, exploding heads, and arterial geysers rendered by cheap CGI, over and over, until that's all the film has to offer. Once again, the stone-faced title badass muses about modern technology, this time with, "Machete don't tweet." He don't fill out a feature film, either, so perhaps trailers should just be trailers. No mas.


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