Machete Kills (2013)

I did not watch Machete and think “that movie left a lot on the table.” But here I am realizing just how much more Rodriguez could ratchet up the ridiculous energy of the original.

Machete Kills smooths out the original’s grittiness and sleaze into a more streamlined action comedy… though “streamlined” definitely isn’t the right word. Everything here is too over-the-top — the very over-the-top-ness being the point — to call “streamlined.”

The film breaks pretty neatly into two halves. The first is a wild reverse-chase cleverly designed to invert common tropes of exploitation films: Instead of a quest to hunt down and kill the big boss, it’s a quest to keep him alive. (He has the switch to nuclear bomb attached to his heart, after all.) Instead of protecting the gold-hearted prostitute, she’s hunting Machete down with gun-boobs.

The second half is more broadly satirical, as Machete finds himself in the employ of a defense contractor billionaire played by Mel Gibson. This half is a bit less clever than the first, but even loonier as it throws in gadgets and clones and some sci-fi nonsense.

The film’s two-episode nature is problematic. It requires an abrupt pivot for the movie, halting momentum and dumping new exposition, which is my single biggest mark against it.

And overall, the movie suffers slightly from its maximalism, the constant roar of lunacy ultimately numbing its impact. It’s nonetheless absolutely delightful batshittery that had me smiling the whole time.

The cast remains filled with star power: in addition to Trejo, Gibson, and a returning Michelle Rodrigueze, we get Lady Gaga, Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara, Charlie Sheen, Vanessa Hudgens, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas, and more.

Just like Machete seemed to predict the heightened Trump-era border wall debate, so Machete Kills feels slightly prophetic. Here, the billionaire is obsessed with outer space as a garish token of his infinite power and wealth. Suffice it to say that theme has become prominent in the past two years as billionaires have launched themselves into space for the hell of it. Hell, Elon Musk even makes a cameo here!

The movie perfectly sets up and teases a third entry in the Machete series called “Machete Kills Again… In Space!” with a fake trailer. Because Machete Kills tanked with both viewers and critics, it seems less likely each day that it will ever get made. But I hope so, because the glimmers we get hint at an even higher possible ceiling of silly Machete absurdity, and I want to see how far Rodriguez can push this series’ aesthetic and mission.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

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