For all those perpetual adolescents out there whose bloodlust wasn’t sated by the woefully poor and over-hyped hack job that was Machete (2010) comes Robert Rodriguez’s latest act of career self-mutilation, Machete Kills (2013); a film that in any fair universe would spell the end of modern grindhouse. Danny Trejo returns as the indestructible, blade-wielding Mexican who this time around must do battle with Mel Gibson’s villainous über-baddie Luther Vos, an ice-cool but criminally insane arms dealer with grand plans to wipe out humanity with lethal missiles from his orbiting space station. Remind you of anyone?
Along the road, various characters appear and are promptly dispatched in a variety of ridiculous ways. Lady Gaga turns up as a shape shifting assassin, Charlie Sheen plays the US President with an obligatory ‘winning’ joke shoe-horned in and legendary method actor Jessica Alba makes a thankfully brief appearance as Machete’s partner. For the first twenty minutes you’re fooled into believing it’s nothing more than a mindless but harmless action flick. We’re presented with a tongue-in-cheek trailer for the third in the trilogy (Machete Kills Again…in Space), there’s a gunfight, an amusing 3D gag, a few elaborate deaths and Amber Heard’s femme fatale proves beyond doubt that the rising star is a force to be reckoned with.
In fact, it could be argued that the first quarter of Machete Kills is the best work Rodriguez has produced since Sin City (2005), but when you consider the kind of dross he’s churned out in those nine years, practically anything resembling a coherent film that doesn’t look like it was knocked up in a shed one rainy afternoon would have been an improvement. Unfortunately, things spiral downhill pretty quickly. The cameos are distracting, the plot loses its rhythm before disintegrating completely and the seemingly endless decapitations and brutal deaths will lead even the most hardened of action fans to seek religion after the credits roll.
If there is a line between violence as entertainment and violence as banal pornography, Machete Kills crosses it. If you find yourself chuckling away as the one thousandth random goon gets sliced in half, you’re probably due a trip to the hall of mirrors to take a long, hard look at yourself. And Gibson? Despite his dubious politics and screaming outbursts, it’s always good to see Mel on screen. He chews up the dialogue like an old pro, and his suit/cape combo could be the highlight of the entire show. There’s also an audience out there for Machete Kills, but Rodriguez needs to stop the rot. Fingers are crossed for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014).