I love silly fun movies. Sometimes my friends don’t think this is true, and that I can’t enjoy a movie as pure entertainment anymore. False I say. In fact, director Robert Rodriguez has made a bunch of B-action movies in the past that I’ve enjoyed, from “Desperado” to “Planet Terror” to “From Dusk till Dawn.” Those are examples of how to do silly fun movies right. “Machete Kills,” Rodriguez’s latest and the sequel to the original “Machete,” is not.
I’d like to give a plot synopsis but this movie is so haphazard that it would be a fool’s errand to give a clear rundown. Basically though, following the death of Machete’s (Danny Trejo) love interest Sartana (Jessica Alba), the U.S. President (Charlie Sheen, going by his real name Carlos Estevez in the credits) calls Machete back into action. He wants the ex-Federale to track down the terrorist Mendez (Demian Bichir) aiming a nuclear missile at Washington, except things get complicated when Mendez needs to stay alive and the man who killed Sartana might be behind all this.
That may sound like a clear plot but actually watching “Machete Kills” gives the feeling that Rodriguez just made everything up as he went along and stitched together random action scenes and gags. It’s a shame, as Rodriguez showed with “Planet Terror” (a.k.a. the movie where Rose McGowan straps a machine gun to her leg) that he can make a well constructed bloody-funny action movie with creativity and a little bit of wit. “Machete Kills,” much like its predecessor, has Rodriguez flailing around, throwing whatever comes to his mind at a dart board and then cramming it all into 100 minutes.
Although with that many darts, some are bound to hit. The final act, where the movie shifts from its gritty grindhouse roots into full on science fiction, has its charms, most of them having to do with Mel Gibson’s cackling bad guy performance. Gibson goes full loony bin here, rocking a super villain cape like its nothing and tossing off his ludicrous dialogue with aplomb. On a similar note, Bichir has a lot of fun wavering between Mendez’s psychotic and tender sides (he’s got a major case of split personality). In fact, most of the villains are the highlights, although Sofia Vergara’s shtick becomes annoying. Oh, and your childhood memories of “Spy Kids” (also Rodriguez) will be distorted when Alexa Vega appears, dolled up in various skimpy outfits.
But while the reckless abandon can be occasionally infectious, it is mostly tiresome and overdone. The movie starts out at 11 and then stays there throughout, forgetting that the best of these movies give breather points so that the big moments pay off, rather than repetitively pile on top of each other. Furthermore, many of those “crazy” pay off moments thud because Rodriguez often resorts to cheap looking digital effects to accomplish them. I’ve seen movies from over 20 years ago that pulled off the cool gore better than “Machete Kills” because they used tactile practical effects rather than rushed computer work.
It doesn’t help that Machete himself is just a rather boring hero. Danny Trejo has long shown that he can be a reliably cool character actor, but so perhaps being a lead actor just doesn’t work well with him, as both “Machete” movies have shown. Rodriguez seems to know this too, as the stone-faced protagonist is frequently overshadowed by everything else around him. Maybe that is a clue that “Machete” should have stayed as the (fun) one-joke fake trailer it originated as, rather than the two (going on three) movie series that repeats the same said joke into the ground.