The Machete film franchise is born out of a joke that may have been taken too far. We first met Machete, the man in a fake trailer, shown as part of the Grindhouse double feature back in 2007. The trailer has everything action lovers and teenage boys would ever want in a film. Machete, played by Danny Trejo, is an unstoppable killing machine. There is a cartoonish, decisive violence, complete with satisfyingly fake-looking blood and entrails. The women are equal parts dangerous and beautiful, and they all swoon for Machete.
Machete is the first film I've ever heard of that's inspired by a fake trailer, and the result is surprisingly great. It's a parody of itself, but more than that, the story is imaginative and comprehensible. In the film, Machete and his cohorts are fighting for the liberation of Mexico from the clenches of overzealous border patrol politicians. The violence is campy and the characters have heart, and at the end we're shown a trailer promising the sequel. So goes the tagline: "Trained to kill. Left for dead. Back for more."
It's too bad that the sequel, director Robert Rodriguez's Machete Kills, is such a slapdash, thrown-together effort, compared to the original. It offers all the ingredients of the first film without the necessary love and attention of a well-crafted story we can get behind. It's not a total wash; there are some delightful, creative moments. For many viewers, seeing a man strung up by his intestines and then chopped to pieces in the blades of a helicopter will be enough to make them happy, butsue meI wanted more attention paid to good storytelling.
Machete Kills is as the trailer promised: Machete is trained to kill and back for more. The President of the United States, played by Charlie Sheenwhy not?has a madman on his hands, intent on pointing dangerous nuclear weapons at America, unless Machete stops him. This is the film's unbelievable conceit that Machete is literally the only man capable of saving America from its demise at the hands of a lunatic. Again, why not?
Machete has orders to kill Mendez (Demián Bichir), but it's complicated: The bomb is wired to his heart, and further, Mendez is truly mad: He changes allegiance and mood on a dime, like a multiple personality thing. It's too bad that one of the best characters winds up with his head cut off and his heart left beating in a glass case.
Along the way Machete meets all sorts of strange people, and who knows what team they're playing for or what motivates their actions? Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) is a beauty queen who's spent a lifetime training to kill (as has everyone else in this film, apparently) and she has a direct line to the president. She's a vixen, but can Machete trust her? There's a man/woman roaming the desert named El Camaleón who shapeshifts into many famous actors: Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas... It's a neat trick but why is he here? Michelle Rodriguez reprises her role as a badass with one eye defending the Mexican people from tyranny. Mel Gibson plays the evil billionaire behind the heart in the glass case. An insane madam (Sofia Vergara) shoots people with machine guns mounted on her bra and crotch, but why, again?
Machete Kills begins with a trailer for the third movie: Machete Kills Again... In Space. It's a curious choice to put the trailer for the next installment at the start of the film, but it works. You're thinking, "How the hell are they going to get this crazy Mexican in space?" Well, life finds a way, and so does this weird movie.
Machete Kills is not very good, but I wouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. If they take their time with the third film and remember what made the original stickan imaginative but coherent story despite the weird detailsRodriguez and his friends just might be able to turn this car around.
Machete Kills continues at the Village 6 and Pharaohplex.