Saturday, October 12, 2013

Machete Kills / ** (R)

Machete: Danny Trejo
Voz: Mel Gibson
Mendez: Demian Bichir
Miss San Antonio: Amber Heard
Luz: Michelle Rodriguez
Desdemona: Sofía Vergara
Mr. President: Carlos Estevez
La Camaléon: Lady Gaga
El Camaléon 4: Antonio Banderas
El Camaléon 1: Walt Goggins
El Camaléon 2: Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Cereza: Vanessa Hudgens
KillJoy: Alexa Vega
Zaror: Mark Zaror
Osiris Amanapur: Tom Savini

Open Road Films presents a film directed by Robert Rodriguez. Written by Kyle Ward. Screen story by Robert Rodriguez & Marcel Rodriguez. Running time: 107 min. Rated R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content).

In a tradition that has become a signature of the mock-grindhouse films of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez’s new film “Machete Kills” starts with a trailer for another grindhouse film. The name of the film is “Machete Kills Again… In Space”. This is confusing since I had just bought a ticket for “Machete Kills”. Why was I seeing a trailer for a sequel to a movie that was just released? The trailer reveals the plot of this second sequel to Rodriguez’s brilliant exploitation spoof “Machete” in pretty clear detail. We see Machete’s exploits in space in what appears to be a film that has lost all touch with the original “Machete” beyond the fact that it looks like a bad 70s b-movie. What happened to the renegade federalé who has turned into a Mexican folk hero with a penchant for unique weapons and a taste for the blood of evil men? Lasers and jet packs? Really?!

In their first grindhouse effort, the double bill of Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” and Tarantino’s “Death Proof”, the directing duo recruited other genre directors to compile fake trailers to accompany their features in order to perpetuate the illusion that these were actually grindhouse films from the 70s. In fact “Machete” was born from these fake trailers, as Rodriguez was so pleased with his trailer and fan reaction was so positive that he decided to make his fake trailer into a real film. My question is whether or not “Machete Kills Again… In Space” is supposed to be a real trailer for the third movie in the franchise, or is it just another fake ridiculous b-movie trailer? It gave me a little bit too much to think about going into the actual “Machete” sequel “Machete Kills”. Little did I know that the trailer for this third Machete film would be the most brilliant bit of “Machete Kills”.

As we settle into the actual sequel to “Machete” we discover that Machete and Sartana, the Immigrations officer who helps Machete in the first film, have stumbled upon a weapons deal being perpetrated by U.S. soldiers. After a satisfyingly bloody battle between the two Federal officers and the soldiers and the Merxican drug cartel members who bought the weapons, a fourth group enters the ring and slaughters everyone who is left save for Machete, who is spared for an unknown reason. Despite being spared, Machete is snatched up by the local law enforcement who have their own version of the justice system and try to hang Machete before they get a call from the President of the United States, played in perfect exploitation appropriateness by Charlie Sheen, billed with his real name, Carlos Estevez. I don’t care if you don’t like Sheen, his voice is the kind that makes bad dialogue sound great.

Machete is recruited by the President—in a comical scene where the President makes Machete a U.S. Citizen instantly with a big rubber red stamp—to track down and kill a madman in Mexico named Mendez, who is threatening to nuke the United States if the U.S. government doesn’t cross the border and declare war on all the drug cartels. Of course in order to find Mendez, Machete must interact with many buxom babes, including a whorehouse full of heavily armed women and run by a man-hating beauty played by Sofía Vergara of “Modern Family”. Machete’s mission is further complicated when he finds Mendez, who suffers from multiple personality syndrome, one of whom has a death wish and places a bounty out on himself for millions of dollars. Demian Bichir, who I’ve only seen in dramatically heavy roles, is brilliant as the off-his-rocker Mendez.

Despite the crazy nature of the film’s plot, it never quite reaches the level of brilliance as the original “Machete”. This might be because, outside of the opening trailer, Rodriguez drops many of the signature styles of the 70s exploitation pictures. He doesn’t retain the grainy and damaged nature of the film stock that added so much atmosphere to his “Planet Terror”. He doesn’t include bad edits or soundtrack imperfections that reference the material he originally spoofed with these films. The acting is more straightforward than in the previous film, with much of the tooth gnashing toned down, except for Bichir. The few really good laughs do have to do with this type of genre referencing, like when a subtitle on the screen tells the audience to “Put On Your 3D Glasses Now” emphatically. This is not a 3D movie. Then the film proceeds into a sex scene that is obscured by faux 3D film stock.

Other than a few flares, there just isn’t much spark to this sequel. It feels like it’s running through the motions of a spoof rather than really trying to satirize a style of filmmaking. Machete is a big part of that problem. Machete is mostly just an observer of the events happening around him, reacting to them rather than creating them. Danny Trejo has that amazingly striking physique and face of a guy who’s seen it all, but here he seems content with just seeing it. He doesn’t impose himself the way he did in the first “Machete”. His stoicism just doesn’t feed the spoof material. The supporting cast tries their damndest to impose without trying to seem to. Mel Gibson has a larger role than I expected as the weapons manufacturer Voz, and Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., Walt Goggins and Lady Gaga have interesting roles playing the same character, known as the Chameleon. 

The film ends on a cliffhanger that doesn’t just suggest, but outright claims the opening trailer to be a truth rather than just an absurd gag. It seems there will be a “Machete Kills Again… In Space”. I don’t know if Rodriguez has already filmed it and kept it under wraps to be released soon, or if he once again has made himself a trailer before bothering with actually making a movie. I’m hoping the absurdity of the trailer for “Machete Kills Again… In Space” will more greatly inform the material in the actual film than the rather played out material in “Machete Kills” does. While I was disappointed with this film, I will still eagerly await Machete’s space adventures.

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