Once upon a time, the early ‘90s to be more specific, Robert Rodriguez was viewed as a god among men by a legion of burgeoning young filmmakers. He had pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of producing an entire feature film (an action flick, no less) for the paltry sum of $7,000. El Mariachi was a miracle movie that inspired countless guerilla filmmakers to spring into action. The details of Rodriguez’s 1992 no-budget masterpiece can be read in his book, Rebel Without a Crew. In the 22 years since that ground-shaking debut, Rodriguez hasn’t made one great film. He’s made some good ones, but the passage of time has revealed him to be little more than a competent (but terminally self-indulgent) hack.
Machete Kills is his 16th feature, and a sequel to the 2010 Machete. The whole franchise began as a goof, a fake trailer for a non-existent film that was included in Rodriguez’s flop collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, Grindhouse (2007). The first film was a wretched affair; a tone-deaf political screed disguised as an exploitation film. The formula is roughly the same for Kills, with Danny Trejo returning in the title role, but at least the heavy-handedness of the original’s pro-illegal immigration, pro-open borders hysteria has been dropped. However, a step above god-awful is still pretty bad.
Machete Kills opens with its only decent joke—a phony trailer for a sequel called Machete Kills Again… In Space. But after that, this hash of a plot finds Machete (Trejo) on a mission to a stop Marcos Mendez (Demián Bichir), a psycho who plans to nuke Washington D.C. The payoff for Machete is guaranteed U.S. citizenship, as promised by the President himself (Charlie Sheen, in a lazy, uninspired bit of stunt casting). Along the way, Machete has to deal with a parade of ridiculous bad guys, including Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara), Voz (Mel Gibson), and El Chameleón (various actors, depending on which mask is being worn, including Lady Gaga and Antonio Banderas). It should be light, albeit bloody, fun. It’s not. The screenplay (by Kyle Ward) borders on incoherence and Rodriguez’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink visual style is exceedingly childish and grating.
On the plus side, Universal’s Blu-ray offers a terrific technical presentation of this low-budget flick. Rodriguez served as his own director of photography (and he’s a great, versatile technician—just an unfortunately rotten storyteller). His digital cinematography is rich in color and detail, always sharp as a tack. Even the intentional “print flaws” (there’s less of this stylistic kitsch than in the first Machete) look crisp and clear. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix steamrolls across the stereo spectrum like a stampede of wild bulls. Gunfire, splattering blood, and all manner of sound effects spray forth from every channel.
Probably because the box office response was so anemic, Machete Kills comes equipped with few extra features. There are 20 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, none of which are likely to the trip the trigger of any but the most obsessive Machete maniac. The only other feature is a 20-minute “making of” featurette that finds various participants piling on accolades for their own work. Danny Trejo is repeatedly referred to as a “beautiful person,” which may be true but means nothing in terms of Machete Kills’ relative quality. We also hear praise for Robert Rodriguez’s off-Hollywood system, which apparently sidesteps all the typical studio practices. It seems like the actors and filmmakers have a genuinely grand time making these cinematic atrocities. Let’s hope some of the merriment spills into the actual viewing experience for the next Machete film.