Machete Kills Is Just Taking the Piss

This shit can’t be serious. A film-maker with an actual concept of referential comedy and over-the-top nostalgic action sequences? I thought we stopped doing this around the time Die Hard came out, and it was no longer acceptable for action heroes to be built like coconut-Michelin men, ripping out phone booths and throwing unironic bad puns like sweeties while committing minor scale genocide. A time when there was no kind of acceptable emotional response between not giving a righteous shit and being really fucking above it all – and uncontrollable, indignant berserker rage.

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It’s really easy being nostalgic while looking at a time when bloody and brutal action movies were still living their innocent childhood years – in one hand handling gore with the same infantile glee as a child putting the family hamster in a blender, or painting all over the side of daddy’s car with his own shit – and in the other have a view of sex and romance that is as awkward and superficial as a distressed five-year-old boy’s, listening to his parents getting off. At best adding a token romantic subplot as a courtesy nod to the ovarian crowd, potentially reaching the ultimate artistic goal of the hero giving her a quick knobbing before she’s discarded, until the final, closing scene, because it’s about time to get on with the third act and seek vengeance for a murdered partner, rescue a family member or stop some mad fucker from blowing up the entire planet with all the kittens on it. Sometimes all three. A magical time, a simpler time, when Kung Fu, fingerless gloves and bandannas were in as fuck, and Steven Segal and Chuck Norris weren’t considered completely irrelevant yet.

Robert Rodriguez is back doing what he does best: splattery, 70s exploitation-fueled action mash-up of apparently unrelated styles and conventions. And if this movie will not leave you moist, then sorry to tell you, modern medicine would declare you dead neck up.

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Oh by the way, if you read one more line the plot’s not going to offer any surprises.

Machete is back again to save America, in a plot that can only be considered marginally coherent, when the triple-personality-schizophrenic freedom-fighter, covert agent and homicidal lunatic Mendez threatens Washington with a warhead missile, and Machete is the only one who can sort these things out.

It is five past republican immigrant policy, and the US has set up a veritable Wall of China along the southern border, leaving Mexico in violent anarchy as drug cartels run unchecked. Mendez demands us to declare war on the Mexican government and get involved in the drug war, hoping to save the Mexican people. Machete recovers Mendez, whose heart is connected to a transmitter, set to fire the missile in his death, and Machete has to bring him back to US with his heart still beating. Of course shit gets crazy, as Mendez’s psychotic personality sets a 10 million dollar bounty on his own life, and absolutely everyone in the world want them dead, including the face-changing assassin El Cameleón and psychotic prostitutes, lead by Sofía Vergara, coming after them with terminal retribution in mind.

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Things of course end up tits up, and the real villain is revealed to be the mad bond-villain/scientist/scientologist-cult-leader mash-up Voz (Mel Gibson) with psychic abilities, planning a global genocide while him and his followers enjoy the display in space. The film ends with a cliff-hanger as Mel Gibson escapes holding Michelle Rodriguez prisoner, and Machete must follow, making way for the teaser sequel, Machete Kills Again in Space.

At some point during the film – somewhere between where Cuba Gooding Jr takes off a rubber mask and is revealed to be Lady Gaga; and Danny Trejo riding a cruise missile while defusing it – I realized that I was watching a spoof movie, without an original movie to spoof. Though the original Machete was pretty much an extended joke trailer – where joke is that the most type-cast villain actor in movie history, Danny Trejo, is an unironic action hero, with over-the-top action sequences, splattered with shameless 70s and 80s action pastiche – the sequel has had a serious change in tone, moving towards pure action-comedy. The production values are also quite shit, and does break the immersion of the film in certain places.

By the way, why is Lady Gaga here? There is no actual good reason for it, beyond “Fuck you, because I can.” Not that I mind, as in this film “because I can” is as valid as reasons get, and it’s a really fun choice.

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The change in tone is not necessarily a bad thing, but the film in general seems much less focused than its predecessor, and in many ways feels weaker. This might have something to do with a Sin City sequel being somewhere in the fringes of production, keeping Rodriguez torn between projects. Either way, the film is worth seeing, if not for its own merits, then simply because there isn’t another one like it. Much of Machete‘s original cast turns up for seconds, and there is a lot of fun for older fans of Rodriguez. The cock gun, as you might guess, makes another glorious come-back. Though there is a lot of incoherence and messiness in production, the real golden core of Machete is still there: a confident decision to fuck all narrative conventions and add a whole bunch of stuff that could only be filed under “Awesome as Fuck.” And there is a whole shitload of Awesome as Fuck.

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Another golden star is going to Rodriguez in casting choices and actor direction. Trejo, Vergara, Gooding, Bichir and Michelle Rodriguez are all brilliant, and fun to watch. But where the real shit is are the performances of Charlie Sheen (under his birth name Carlos Estevez) and particularly Mel Gibson. The decision to cast an actually crazy person to play a crazy person is amazingly ballsy and funny, but also plays off brilliantly when Mel Gibson delivers a fantastic performance as an over-the-top, deranged bond-villain. Down the line, as Gibson’s Voz gets his face badly burned and covers it with a chrome, Mexican wrestler mask, with only his mad, Catholic eyes expressing the hellish inferno inside…there might just be so much awesome that a body can take.

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Anyway, what were Sheen and Gibson going to do instead, if they turned down these roles? Serious roles in serious movies? With serious financial backers and serious producers, who might be cautious about hiring actors generally considered at least 84% out of their coked-up minds, on a good day? Either way both at least walk away after delivering a good, comedic performance, which might turn out to be the last life ring for their careers. People who throw them down might be a bit tempted to rethink their priorities, with a lot of people in the water who could use a hand, not all of them gulping down seawater as fast as they can, punching holes in all handy flotation devices and shouting racism and madness at anyone who comes close.

Either way, go see it. Best use for your money before December. If the last part Machete Kills Again in Space comes out at some point, as the trailer at the beginning of the film would promise, there might just be enough awesome in the world generated to make everyone spontaneously  sprout a rocking beard and aviator goggles.

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