An over-the-top movie can be an awful movie, but it takes a special kind of movie to pull off that rare trifecta of producing an outcome that is over-the-top, awful, and, it’s most damning quality, boring. Machete Kills is just this kind of special movie. Director Robert Rodriguez, along with the cast and crew of 2010’s Machete, is back, but whereas Rodriguez reveled in paying homage to the violent, exploitative grindhouse films of the 1970s with the first film, Machete Kills plays as a more violent version of Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over. Everything looks artificial and achieved in post-production. Every shortcut is met to save money on budget and time. Everyone, save Danny Trejo’s titular character, likely filmed their roles in no more than a week. Everything about this film is simply awful.
The most frustrating aspect of Machete Kills is how good its predecessor is. Machete was spun-off from a fake trailer in the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino Grindhouse double-feature, and was arguably the best of the bunch (though I do hold a special place in my blacked heart for Eli Roth’s Thanksigiving– “White meat. Dark meat. All will be carved.”). The cast assembled for that trailer was game to do a full-length feature, including character actor extraordinaire Jeff Fahey and Cheech Marin as a violent priest. Both are sorely missed here.
Instead, we’re introduced to new characters, including the schizophrenic villain Mendez, played by Demián Bichir (excellent on FX’s The Bridge but directionless here), who is threatening to fire a missile into the U.S. if his demands are not met. Charlie Sheen plays the President (because, ha-ha) who charges Machete with the assignment to head south of the border to stop him. Sheen even has a joke about “winning” in the film — a joke that was deemed old roughly three years ago, well before this film went into production.
That’s only the first half.
We are suddenly introduced to Mel Gibson’s lead villain Luther Voz and the movie abruptly shifts gears, mutating into a spoof of the James Bond film Moonraker, as well as Star Wars. If the first half wasn’t boring enough, we now have another take on the sci-fi genre that Spaceballs and Austin Powers took care of decades ago. There is a gun that turns people inside out. There is a spaceship ready for lift off. Oh, and there are clones. There’s a fine line between the sharp wit of Blazing Saddles and dull-knife of Date Movie, and this film places its machete alongside the latter.
Machete Kills was doomed from the start, for any good feelings leftover from the first film evaporate quicker than Machete can say “Machete don’t text.” The majestic, nostalgic sleaze of its predecessor is replaced by pristine imagery and an overreliance on green screen that makes Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow look like it was filmed on location. Rodriguez put this modern-day style of filmmaking to good use in Sin City, but that film is primarily in B&W and hidden in shadows. The green-screen sequences in Machete Kills practically reflect off the screen, and in a film that features a number of big, outdoor action sequences in “daylight”, that becomes a visual nightmare.
Robert Rodriguez remains one of the most hands-on directors in Hollywood, so the blame truly falls upon him. In addition to co-writing and directing Machete Kills, he also co-scored and co-edited the disaster, and was even responsible for the cinematography. This unique, singular approach to filmmaking has earned him respect from both filmmakers and audiences over the decades, which is what makes the hollow Machete Kills so frustrating. Hopefully Rodriguez can recover, provided he doesn’t follow through on the fake trailer for Machete Kills Again…In Space. Shudder.