If you can’t take joy in gratuitous violence and boobs, you probably won’t find much pleasure in “Machete Kills” — but you should already know that going in. After all, this is a sequel to a movie that was just an expansion of a fake trailer in the midst of the Rodriguez-Tarantino “Grindhouse” films, which were themselves parodies of numerous 70s exploitation flicks, a subseries of genres which all prided themselves on cheap thrills and bombast. It’s an expansion of an expansion of a parody of something inherently silly. And man, does this exponential silliness show.
True to its source material, “Machete Kills” opens with the traditional, gritty filter grindhouse screen telling us to enjoy the trailer for “Machete Kills Again in Space” (Yes, we are teased with the third movie before the second even begins) and then the feature presentation. The actual movie involves Machete, the titular, blade-wielding, badass federale played by Danny Trejo, getting caught up in a mission to prevent Mexican cartel lord Mendez (Demian Michir) from detonating a nuke under Washington, D.C. Said mission grows progressively more and more convoluted until it is revealed that the whole ordeal was orchestrated by the evil and somehow prophetic genius, Dr. Voz (Mel Gibson).
One of the weaknesses of “Machete Kills” is that it must be judged next to its predecessor. While not perfect, 2010’s “Machete” was a tightly-knit, well-paced and fun action flick that somehow, among all the cleavage and carnage, managed to make a point about modern immigration issues. On the other hand, “Machete Kills” is so over the top from the get-go that none of the action scenes –– while still fun and exciting to watch –– carry any weight or social commentary. I’d like to say that I enjoyed the way Machete used a helicopter to kill some baddies, but that statement could be used to refer to any of four separate scenes.
The other problem is how thinly spread out everything is. There are so many characters going into and out of alliances with each other, giving their whole backstories and then just getting removed entirely from the film, that viewers suffer from a serious case of whiplash. It’s nice to see Mel Gibson giving evil rants in a fictional universe for a change, and Michir’s Mendez is entertaining, but both of their intents as villains change constantly. Charlie Sheen as U.S. President Rathcock is a treat, but is as sporadic as — well, Charlie Sheen. Sofia Vergara as Desdemona contributes nothing to the film other than a few (admittedly awesome) shootouts involving breast-mounted machine guns. And most egregious of all is the character known as “The Chameleon,” whose gimmick of switching disguises just comes off as a way for Rodriguez to shoehorn Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas, and even Lady Gaga all into one role in a movie where more characters is the last thing it needs.
And yet, I can’t call this a bad movie purely because it is all spearheaded by Danny Trejo. Really, he sells the hell out of the whole thing. He carries an unbroken seriousness and conviction throughout the entire piece, even as he plays a character whose invincibility allows him to at one point stab a circuit box and let the electric current run through him to kill the bad guy he grabbed. It is like Trejo is in on how much of a joke the movie is, but he doesn’t find it funny in the slightest, and just keeps going with it anyway. When he grabbed a huge blade for the sixth time, or easily defeated several super soldiers, or delivered a one-liner like “You can’t predict Machete,” I never rolled my eyes. I cheered him on. I could do without all his friends and enemies that tag along, but I’m actually excited to see what’s going to happen to Machete in the third installment.
“Machete Kills” is far from perfect, even in its state as an expansion of parody. It’s campier than Adam West in a leotard and it is held together looser than the limbs of the countless minions Danny Trejo chops up. It feels less like professionals got together to make a feature film and more like a bunch of Hollywood people got together to mess around on their day off. But if you just want a mindless bit of fun, and if you really enjoyed the first one, or Danny Trejo in general, you could probably do worse than “Machete Kills.”
Rating: 3 stars