Machete Kills (Review)

MACHETE KILLS (10/11/13; Action)
Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Amber Heard, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Walton Goggins, William Sadler, Demián Bichir, Mel Gibson
SCR: Kyle Ward (Story), Robert Rodriguez, Marcel Rodriguez
DIR: Robert Rodriguez
MPAA: R for R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content.
1 hour 48 mins
(Open Road)


Machete Kills is an improbable sequel to a movie that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. Machete began life as a parody trailer sandwiched between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s features in the Grindhouse movie (the character actually appeared for the first time as “Uncle Machete” in Rodriguez’s Spy Kids movies). The fake trailer became such a sensation, that everybody wanted to see the real movie.

And while the 2010 feature that emerged was uneven at best, it cannily figured out a way to expand the trailer in believable ways. With a few casting exceptions, the fake promo now acted as a real one.

But as much as I forgave the first movie, Rodriguez has completely run out of steam here. Technically, this is the first “new” Machete story and to say it’s bonkers is an undersell. Any movie with Charlie Sheen (ahem, I meant Carlos Estevez) as a machine gun-toting US president is going to be slightly left of center.

Sure, he has attracted a top-flight cast of A-listers all wanting to get their grunge on. But aside from some computer-generated violence and the occasional spurt of blood, Rodriguez has completely abandoned what made the first one charming in the first place. Gone is the grainy film aesthetic that made it look as if Machete could have been made in the wild low-budget 70s.

Now the movie looks digitally perfect, which illuminates it’s flaws as opposed to celebrating them. Also, there was a decision to modernize the setting with jokes about tweeting. (“Machete don’t tweet.”) The big guy has the right idea. Trejo owns this signature role, and frankly could play this guy for the rest of his life.

Also worth pointing out: Machete Kills has done away with all the nudity. One of the running jokes has always been that Machete, played by Danny Trejo “knows the score” and gets all the chicks. The sole love scene in this movie attempts to mock 3D movies but the joke is lame. When did Robert Rodriguez become so chaste?

Yes, it’s gloriously absurd and it should be. Having Demián Bichir as a dictator with multiple personalities? Genius. Casting Mel Gibson as a megalomaniacal villain in Dr. Evil mode? Awesome. Swapping out Cuba Gooding Jr. for Lady Gaga in a repeated gag that mocks Mission: Impossible‘s elaborate face masks? Um, okay.

The title on the film reads “Robert Rodriguez’ Machete Kills.” But I’m hoping that should we reach the next chapter, in which Machete heads into space to do battle with a masked Mel Gibson (a la Darth Vader), that Rodriguez hands the directorial reigns over to someone who can return Machete to his unwashed, grimy exploitative roots.

The sky is the limit, but so is the distance between being a violent satire of 70s exploitation fare, and all-out Austin Powers-level silliness with more overt Star Wars jokes than Spaceballs (1987) Maybe Rodriguez should go back and watch the 4-minute parody trailer again.

And please, no more jokes about tweeting.



Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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