Is any filmmaker having more fun than Robert Rodriguez with his Machete movies? Back for more mischief with Machete Kills, cinema’s Renaissance Man (as usual, Rodriguez solely manages or has a hand in the direction, story, cinematography, original music, and editing) embraces the work’s Grindhouse roots and ups the ante on the absurd. The result is a film giddier than its predecessor and, after John Dies at the End, probably the year’s most entertaining effort.
Danny Trejo returns as the titular Mexican James Bond, but not before a glimpse at the next Machete film. Resurrecting the faded, ‘70s-tastic “Prevues of Coming Attractions” that first announced Machete’s arrival in Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, the director then offers up a trailer for the inevitable sequel, Machete Kills Again…In Space. Though this Star Wars knock-off reveals where Machete Kills is bound to go in a broad sense, it more importantly strikes the perfect opening tone and sets in motion the action/comedy shenanigans to come.
Within minutes of the film proper’s start, Machete’s love Agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) is murdered by a mysterious masked man while our hero is blamed for her death. Saved mid-hanging by the U.S. President (Charlie Sheen, going by his birth name Carlos Estevez), Machete is given a top-secret government mission by his handler (Amber Heard), herself undercover as perpetual beauty pageant contestant Miss San Antonio. In her sultry presence, the film takes a wonderful leap into its medium’s possibilities with a faux 3D sex scene. The “Put on your 3D glasses now!” alert flashing more frantically as the nudity nears, Rodriguez officially puts his stamp on the film and the good times roll on from there.
Dropped via helicopter into Mexico, Machete crosses paths with misandrist brothel madam Desdemona (Sofia Vergara) and her pistol-packing hookers on his way to finding Mendez, a lunatic with a nuclear warhead pointed at Washington, D.C. Played with cackling flair by Demian Bichir, this split-personality good/bad guy with the missile’s detonator fused to his heart is the actor’s real reward for his A Better Life Oscar nomination, not being wasted in Savages or The Heat.
But, this being an exercise in cinematic liberties, Machete Kills isn’t content with one or two villains. Laying on the threats deliciously thick, Rodriguez puts legendary assassin The Chameleon (embodied at various times by Walt Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas) on Machete’s trail. On top of that, in perhaps his most brilliant move, Rodriguez saves top baddie status for Mel Gibson as a Dick Cheney/Richard Branson hybrid with an unreliable case of déjà vu. Playing the kind of evil character that serves as an easy punching bag, Gibson relishes a turn that’s likewise cathartic for his legions of haters.
Full of bad guys meeting their end in all sorts of hilarious and so-gruesome-they’re-fake ways, Machete Kills works because both cast and crew are committed to the end result. Only Vergara and Lady Gaga don’t fall in synch with the patter, and while their contributions and a few wandering scenes make the film feel slightly overlong, this is one deep cache of tricks. The few instances when things go awry, all one need do is wait a minute and something amusing will happen. That these misfires may also be part of Rodriguez’s master plan makes the film even more appealing.
Rated R For strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content.
Machete Kills is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.