The somewhat mixed response to Robert Rodriguez’s 2010 spoof trailer turned feature, Machete, was an indication that audiences were tiring of seeing him draw from his overused bag of visual tricks to deliver yet another cartoonish, Latino-flavoured actioner. His retort? Machete Kills (2013) – a sequel which not only wastes the talents of an interesting ensemble, but also amplifies everything which was wrong with the cynical and egregiously self-indulgent original. This time around, hulking ex-federale Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) is offered American citizenship and a clean state by the US Prez (Charlie Sheen).
All that’s required of the murderous Machete is to eliminate dangerous despot Marcos Mendez (played by Demián Bichir), who is threatening to fire a nuclear missile at Washington. But Mendez is merely a pawn in a much larger power struggle which involves an eccentric and maniacal inventor named Luther Voz (a perfectly cast Mel Gibson). Bizarrely, Machete Kills begins with an amusing retro Star Wars-style trailer for the projected third entry in the series (Machete Kills Again…In Space). Not only is this two-minute teaser funnier than anything Rodriguez does in the subsequent sequel, but it also acts as a stark reminder that this gimmicky piece of Mexploitation cinema is far better suited to a brief, viral-like format.
Machete Kills is very much Rodriguez running on autopilot, and even the sight of Trejo’s granite-like face in unblemished hi-def offers scant interest. Everything about the film has a throwaway quality to it, from the seemingly endless array of superfluous characters to the lazy and horribly CG’d bloodletting and disembowelment during the lifeless action scenes. That sense of goofy fun and sharp inventiveness which Rodriguez brought to his earlier work is almost completely absent, and for all the gore and violence on display, Machete Kills is a strangely tame and subdued affair. Even the genuinely subversive (if a little perverse) sight of an aging Trejo bedding the twenty-something Amber Heard is given a psychedelic, graphic whitewash.
Rodriguez’s latest is only enlivened when Gibson is on screen, and his campy but measured turn (which seems to fly in the face of the specific ‘chew scenery’ direction given to the cast of the cast) acts as a reminder that despite his fall from grace, he’s still a very able performer. Machete Kills is ‘McCinema’ at its very worst and should act as a wake-up call for the Mexican to put to bed his sequelitis and insistence on regurgitating the kind of themes and imagery he first crafted almost two decades back. Unfortunately, if the bookended teasers are anything to go by (the cheat of an ending once again hints at a third instalment) this may not be the last we see of Trejo’s Machete.