REVIEW: The pros and cons of ‘Machete Kills’

“Machete Kills” follows an ex-Federale (Danny Trejo), who has been enlisted by the United States president (Charlie Sheen) to chase a cray arms dealer with a penchant for lunacy and homicide.

Setting the tone, the film opens with a gritty trailer for “Machete Kills in Space,” and I was actually jazzed. Director/composer/writer Robert Rodriguez hams up the visuals, and he definitely a predilection for postmodern film-making. BUT, in the first 10 minutes of “Machete Kills,” 15 people die or are dismembered. And the gratuitous violence continues to comic proportions.

At one point, Machete jumps from an exploding helicopter onto a speedboat which he somehow manages to flip into adversaries on a dock before jumping into the ocean, and all the while carrying unconscious arms dealer Mendez (Demian Bichir), who, has a bomb detonation device attached to his heart.

The driving force behind “Machete Kills” is to get Mendez across the Mexico/U.S. border where doctors can remove the heart-bomb device, which, if it goes off, will annihilate America.

Absurdity. But there are some high points to “Machete Kills,” and here are the pros and cons.

The heart of the matter: “Machete don’t play”

  • PRO: The cast. Only in “Machete Kills” can Charlie Sheen play the U.S. president and Rodriguez can poke fun at/with Lady Gaga’s chameleon-like look. (She plays one face of a contract killer in leotards, heels and razor nails. Other actors who don this character are ACADEMY AWARD WINNER Cuba Gooding Jr. and Antonio Banderas.) Rodriguez is so post-modern in his understanding of the absurd. He makes no false pretenses in the over-the-top chase scenes and lazy CGI blood splatter. And that gives this movie a sort of charm in its characters. And Amber Heard as Machete’s handler kind of owns it. At least until her “fight scene.”
  • CON: There are too many cameos. ACADEMY AWARD WINNER Mel Gibson plays the villain du jour in a cheap Star Trek uniform and cape. Michelle Rodriguez comes in as the cyclops underground renegade who assists Machete. Jessica Alba and Vanessa Hudgens are in momentarily, but they’re killed off after 5 minutes of screen time. Toward (what I thought was) the end of the movie, Rodriguez was still introducing new characters, and this film’s gong show quota exceeded anything I could’ve imagined.

Packing heat and “dressed to the nines”

  • PRO: There are moments when the absurdity forces a laugh. In a pretty raucous scene, Sofia Vergara whips out a strap-on gun which she thrusts to shoot bullets. And throughout the movie, Machete is a man of few words so when he delivers something in the third person — “Machete don’t smoke.” “Machete don’t tweet.” — it’s a bit of levity amid the violence.
  • CON: Rodriguez does not know where to draw the line. During a chick-fight standoff between Michelle Rodriguez and Amber Heard, one of them is battling blind (literally no eyeballs) and they somehow are matched. Spoiler: Amber Heard is slain compliments of her beauty queen crown.
One thing I take away from “Machete Kills” is Robert Rodriguez is clearly having fun making the movies he wants to make the way he wants to make them. He seems to have little regard for conformity, box office numbers (or maybe even his audience), but there is a certain charm in that.
Modern filmmaking is full of director/writers — P.T. Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and even Kevin Smith — who do what they love exactly within boundaries they set. (Woody Allen has been doing this for decades.)
Rodriguez is the same (in only that one regard). Despite what his work yields, he’s making a living on his own terms, and I oddly respect him for that. (Kinda the ultimate PRO.)
Grade: F+

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