Machete Kills plays like a late Roger-Moore era Bond film — and not just because there’s a lot of visual cues and ideas taken from Moonraker — the action and the humor are constantly fighting for dominance, and the humor, regardless of whether it’s appropriate or not, makes sense within the context of the scene or not, hell, is funny or not, usually wins out. Though, to be fair, the plot of Machete Kills is a lot easier to follow than the plot of Octopussy.
Machete (Danny Trejo), in case you didn’t see the first film…or the trailer on which it was based, is an ex-Federale-turned-spy-or-something-like-that-but-all-around-badass, seemingly indestructible and legendary throughout Mexico. His latest “case” has him busting up a gun-running ring, apparently sponsored by the U.S. Army, and distributed to the Mexican cartel. Gun fights, explosions, dramatic standoff music, and hell ensues. Machete is somehow the only survivor when the cops show up, and by the next scene we’re in the local sheriff’s office and Machete is swinging from the ceiling with a noose around his neck. And then the President calls.
And the President is…Charlie Sheen. Naturally. He needs Machete to hunt down and kill Mendez (Damian Bichir), a nutty terrorist with a vendetta against the cartel who’s moved on to threatening the U.S. with a nuclear device. The catch is that once Machete finds him, Mendez reveals that the trigger for the bomb is tied to his heartbeat, so once he dies, boom. And he’s also put a hit out on himself that everyone in Mexico is trying to cash in on.
I’m at the point in the synopsis that’s reaching the traditional spoiler point, but I don’t think that really applies here. The plot is there to set up the next action sequence, so revealing this or that detail doesn’t ruin the movie too much. Instead, any spoilers I could reveal would concern the gags, such as which cast member plays whom. And even then it’s already revealed in the opening credits. For that matter, the opening trailer and how it ties in to the film unfolds all throughout, and that becomes clear fairly early on.
So how does the movie fare in terms of humor and action? The action is very fun. The standout sequence, or at least shot, in the first film, was the moment where Machete uses a goon’s intestines to escape from a building, and fans of that won’t be disappointed with the clever deaths here. Robert Rodriguez is very creative with Machete’s improvisations and the escalation of each set piece, and they’re by far the most entertaining parts of the film, largely due to having some focus to them.
The humor, however, tends to darting out in every direction. For instance, the opening trailer, nicely titled Machete Kills Again…In Space, mocks the countless Star-Wars ripoffs of the late ’70s and early ’80s (Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars seems like a prime target), and while it copies the look and cheesiness of those clones, the satirical edge is blunted by a cheap Justin Bieber joke. And then again by a joke about the X rating. Later in the film, there’s an over-the-top ad for Sheen’s President Rathcock. And later still a poke at Star Wars fans for no particular reason.
Granted I would have preferred Rodriguez to stick to his Grindhouse convention, but I can’t really criticize the film for that. But I can criticize Rodriguez, a talented and creative director, for slumming in Epic Movie territory. Maybe if the jokes were actually funny, they wouldn’t take you out of the movie.
Nevertheless, Machete Kills is still very fun and better than the previous film. It has a lot of tonal inconsistencies, but, yeah, it’s meant to be silly and violent and cheesy and weird. And yes, Mel Gibson is pretty awesome in it as well.