Though it takes a good 45 minutes or so to get going, Machete Kills is a gonzo, guilty pleasure sequel that few outside of Messageboard Nation was asking for. While making his collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez hit upon a sleazoid action concept for craggy-faced character actor Danny Trejo. As the opening phony trailer to that throwback exploitation double feature, the premise was all breasts, blood, and bad drive-in era dialogue. Rodriguez expanded on the idea with the uneven feature film Machete, adding a weird political subtext involving immigration, the treatment of Latinos by the American government, and the possibility of a Hispanic underground and uprising. Now there’s another one..
All of the politics are gone now. Instead, for this second time around, our former Federale turned U.S. agent turned mercenary is dealing with a crazed revolutionary (Demián Bichir), a crazed arms dealer (Mel Gibson), and a crazed assassin called El Cameleón (Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas). There’s also a random assortment of murderous prostitutes (lead by a manic Sofia Vergara), some super soldier clones (Marko Zaror), a racist redneck sheriff (William Sadler), and the reliable help from Machete’s old friend Luz (Michelle Rodriguez).
When a nuclear missile is aimed at Washington D.C. by Mexican madman Mendez (Bichir), the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen) orders Machete to find the fiend and kill him. Turns out, our hero can’t do that because the bomb’s trigger is connected directly to the villain’s heart. Seeking the only person who can disarm the device — its inventor, impresario Luther Voz (Gibson) — Machete must make it back across the border with the help of his undercover contact, Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard). Along the way, he discovers that Mendez suffers from multiple personality disorder and that there is more to his plan than merely destroying the Nation’s capital. Once he finds Voz, things get even more complicated, and crazy.
There’s a singular moment, which won’t be spoiled here, where Machete Kills moves from tired tribute to a fading fanboy’s idea of schlock to a giddy, goofy delight. It’s as if Rodriguez realized that the macho slow burn of the main character and his former war on institutional racism couldn’t survive a second outing. So he added a lunatic left turn into WTF? territory and placed Gibson right smack dab in the center of it. Mel is marvelous, constantly playing to the audience as he moves through a personal plot that’s part Heaven’s Gate (the cult, not the Cimino movie), part protracted exercise in smile-inducing high tech surrealism. Before he shows up, the movie is fine, filled with the over the top trademarks of a Rodriguez romp. Once Magic Mel takes front and center, things turn for tolerable to terrific.
Still, this is a flawed bunch of fun. Rodriguez remains a wildly inconsistent director, incapable of keeping things together for longer than a few short sequences. The movie lags in parts, just waiting for the moment when Mel unveils his Master Plan. Instead of characters, we have extended cameos, with the entire El Cameleón element the most under-utilized. Introducing a mask-wearing hitperson who constantly transforms from one facade to another is brilliant, but only Lady Gaga impresses as the second-to-last “look.” Also, it’s a hoot to see Vergara dropping F-bombs and spouting skanky sex talk, but her collection of combative whores are ass-less-chapped eye candy at best.
Thankfully, Rodriguez knows his audience and how to pander directly to it. Though it’s a bit overlong (no self-respecting B-movie would clock in at 104 minutes), it definitely delivers enough bang… and babes… and CG blood for the buck. Considering what we see in both the pre-feature “preview” and the final few minutes, I wouldn’t mind one last installment in this series. In fact, it would be… out of this world?