Craig's First Take: "Machete Kills"

Photo Credit: © 2013 - Troublemaker Studios Titles

Robert Rodriguez is nothing if not an exciting student of film. I’ve loved the guy’s work for years but never felt like I was learning anything particularly new about film until he started resurrecting the Grindhouse era of his youth. It’s something he seemed to understand so much better than Quentin Tarantino when they both tried the Grindhouse double feature and his work on the “Machete” films, despite feeling like a thin joke, have a commitment to lunacy that I love.

This sequel has the Mexican secret agent (character actor Danny Trejo, doing a terrific deadpan comedic performance) recruited by the President (Charlie Sheen, presumably going by the name Carlos Estevez in roles where he isn’t playing himself from now on) to stop a nuclear attack on U.S soil by Mendez (a zany Demian Bechir, “The Bridge”). He’s a former revolutionary turned schizophrenic madman trying to force the U.S to help clean up the cartels in Mexico. Mendez has somehow rigged the bomb to his heart, so if he dies, it goes off.

There’s a who’s who of other cast members. Amber Heard is a CIA operative whose cover is competing in beauty pageants, Sofia Vergara is a crazed bordello madam with a machine gun built into her bra, Mel Gibson is perhaps too type-cast as a crazed nut, this one a telepath trying to orchestrate his own Noah’s Ark, Michelle Rodriguez returns to help Machete kick ass, and there is a revolving door of actors playing a character known as the Chameleon, just one of many bounty hunters after Machete and Mendez once they are forced to go on the run together.

Much like the first one, this all feels like a hit or miss spoof, missing out on the wit of say an “Airplane” or “Hot Shots”, but making up for it pretty well with all-out ridiculousness. There is thankfully a distracting dose of fast-paced mayhem (the movie merrily can’t go five minutes without another shoot-out or gory disembowelment, beheading, or helicopter thrashing) that takes focus off a plot that's all over the place and has nothing really to say. Machete is undone a bit this time by Rodriguez moving the character away from being the everyman for downtrodden immigrants and into a more Superman-territory; he escapes electrocution, hanging, being shot several times without so much as a scratch. The fact you can’t hurt him makes the action sequences seem a bit inconsequential but Trejo’s stamp on the character can’t be denied and it’s a blast watching him, with an equally good cast of colorful characters adding fine support.

And as soon as you think you’re getting sick of the joke, Rodriguez does a terrific job of upping the ante and showing he’s committed to a good time. The fake trailer he shows at the beginning and end of the film, in keeping with typical Grindhouse style, for “Machete in Space” already has me very excited.