Machete Kills (2013) Review
One of my fondest memories of seeing a film in the cinema is a quite recent one. It was opening night of “Marvel’s Avengers (Assemble)” – I say opening night, I mean civilised opening night, e.g. about 8 o’clock on a Friday evening, not some red-eye one minute past midnight rabid fanboy ‘opening night’ – and me, my wife (she does come to the cinema sometimes) and some friends had splashed out on the finest seats and screening that we could get to.
The cinema was packed and almost electric with excitement as everyone waited to see whether Marvel’s multi-year, multi-movie-franchise gamble would pay off. Of course, “Avengers” was brilliant, a triumphant action comedy adventure which rewards repeated viewings. But the thing that sticks with me most is how much the audience that night made the movie experience something amazing. Every action beat brought sounds of appreciation, the witty banter and sight gags brought waves of laughter – Hulk sucker punching Thor brought the house down – and at the end, there was even a smattering of spontaneous applause. It was a joyous, energizing feeling which took the stuff on screen and elevated it to something almost magical.
But anyway, back to the matter at hand. “Machete Kills” is, of course, a continuation of Robert Rodriguez’s tribute to the grindhouse exploitation movies of the 1970’s but this time, he’s got bigger ambitions and a grander target in mind. Caution is thrown to the wind and Machete is positioned shamelessly as a Mexploitation James Bond, skewering the fantastical, lavish early Roger Moore Bond extravaganzas, complete with gadgets, girls, guns, exotic* locations (*locations must be in Mexico or the mainland United States of America), elaborate villains’ lairs, unstoppable henchmen and seductive assassins.
Make no mistake, this is an overstuffed burrito of a movie, bursting at the seams as Rodriguez piles on action, action and more action, generously ladling a fresh helping of celebrity cameos and seasoning it with liberal profanity and digital blood spatters before wrapping it all in the gruff, weather-beaten charisma of Danny Trejo’s lead character. Rodriquez also makes sure we’re never tempted to closely examine the quality of some of the ingredients by keeping the whole mixture con carne, although there’s a great deal less flesh on show than there was in the first film.
Returning from “Machete”, Jessica Alba’s plucky Agent Rivera [Spoiler Alert] suffers the same fate as all love interests from previous action franchise films and is quickly dispatched to allow Machete’s new adventure to begin. Recruited by President Rathcock (a knowing Charlie Sheen), Machete is sent to track down a Mexican revolutionary called Mendez who has a missile trained on Washington DC and is demanding America invade Mexico or he will use the weapon. Before too long, Machete finds himself on the run with Mendez. Hunted by the Mexican authorities, the drug cartels, assorted bounty hunters and a brothel keeper out for revenge, he must make it back to America in order to defuse a booby trapped bomb and prevent the outbreak of World War Three, with the help of Shé (Michelle Rodriguez) and her Network.
The plot is, more or less, a direct lift of “Moonraker” given a Mexican twist, with Mel Gibson approaching near Riggs-levels of lunacy as the villainous mastermind Luther Voz. Gibson is good value as the cackling, unhinged nemesis to Machete, but it can’t be denied that his real-life problems and scandals have robbed him of much of his screen charisma. Among the rest of the cast, Vanessa Hudgens continues her trajectory away from “High School Musical” with a foul-mouthed appearance while Sofia Vergara amuses and terrifies as a bloodthirsty Madame, complete with some bespoke weaponry that will be familiar to fans of “Austin Powers”. Of the many celebrities joining in the fun (take a bow Cuba Gooding Jr, Antonio Banderas, William Sadler, Walter Goggins), only Lady Gaga really disappoints, in a lifeless performance that while played for laughs, pretty much falls flat. She seems unable to recapture the vitality of her recent appearance in “The Simpsons” in person.
Paving the way for the promised third instalment “Machete Kills Again…In Space”, there’s a huge amount of narrative handwaving to bring in a huge amount of genre-bending technology. The third act of the film jettisons the Bond motif and goes full on Hombre In Black, with a side order of “Star Wars”, giving the showdown between Voz and Machete some literal zip, zap and pizazz as they duel with a variety of futuristic and occasionally gruesome weaponry. Ultimately, though, the generously portioned enchilada that is “Machete Kills” will leave you feeling a little bloated. It’s not as propulsive and slick as “Machete” and a more disciplined approach to editing and a less indulgent script would have given a leaner, better experience.
The reason I shared my gushing sentimentality of the first time I saw “Marvel’s Avengers” is that “Machete Kills” is a film that was crafted for a similar kind of experience. When I watched “Machete Kills”, I saw it by myself in a nearly empty screen with only a handful of other people scattered about and it robbed the film of much of its potency. It didn’t help that the cinema had put it into one of its larger screens and in that setting, without the crowd, it struggled to gain any momentum. The occasional self-consciously suppressed sniggers, chuckles and snorts were enough to convince me the movie needs a critical mass to really succeed in the cinema.
“Machete Kills” is the kind of film that suffers from our current multiplex cinema model. It shouldn’t be seen in an auditorium that holds 300 people in pristine air-conditioned luxury in the middle of the evening. It should be shown in the smallest capacity screen at late night showings on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. I enjoyed “Machete Kills” but I know that if I’d seen it in a cramped, packed cinema with an audience whooping it up, I’d probably have loved it. Unfortunately, the disastrous box office performance of “Machete Kills” shows that it’s just not reaching that target audience or connecting in the way it was intended to, and threatens to derail the planned third and final part of the trilogy (although Robert Rodriguez has hinted that both sequels were already green lit).
I suppose there is the possibility that the whole “Machete” joke is wearing a bit thin but I found more than enough to enjoy here that I believe there’s still life in our Mexican man of action yet. No, I suspect the Box Office, like so many enemies before, won’t be enough to kill off Machete and that this is one of those films that will explode back to life when it finds its way to DVD and VOD. After all, like its predecessor, “Machete Kills” is solid gold, muy picante entertainment for you and your mates, either with some beers at home or post-pub whilst cradling a dubious takeaway.