The reason a film like Machete Kills works so well is because all involved in the filmmaking process understand the joke and for that reason, they make high art out of something that is so low brow.
Machete Kills stars Danny Trejo, reprising his Machete Cortez character first seen in Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids, and later in the mock-trailer that preceded the 2007 Tarantino/Rodriguez love letter to ’70s art house exploitation films, Grindhouse, as well as his own 2010 film, Machete.
In this outing, the President of the United States (Carlos Estevez, the actual birth name of Charlie Sheen) saves Machete from a crazed, Joe Arpaio-like Arizona Sheriff (William Sadler) and offers him full U.S. citizenship if Machete will go to Mexico and stop a revolutionary named Mendez (Demian Bichir), who has a missile aimed at Washington.
Machete meets up with his handler, Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) and then infiltrates the seedy side of Mexico (insert every joke imaginable here, as screenwriter Kyle Ward–from a story by Robert Rodriguez and his brother Marcel–assuredly did in his script).
In Mexico, we meet Desdemona (Sofia Vergara) a brothel owner who hates men–or at least penises–and her daughter Cereza (Vanessa Hudgens), who is a favorite “companion” of Mendez. Before long, and after some major plot points involving multiple personalities, clones, and a few betrayals, Machete and Mendez are scrambling to get back over the border to the U.S. so the creator of the missile, billionaire American arms supplier, Luthor Voz (Mel Gibson), can disarm it.
What follows is even more socially-tinged wackiness and more guest stars than a very special episode of Love Boat. Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., Walton Goggins, and Antonio Banderas show up–all playing the same person, mind you, and Michelle Rodriguez returns as the lovely-but-deadly Luz. The cast is a who’s who of Robert Rodriguez film veterans, and is large by most standards, and they all seem to be having fun and they all seem to be in on the joke. And therein lies the real beauty of Machete Kills: The humor. The film is really funny. I found myself laughing out loud at all the right places, and just when the humor–or the blatant borderline-offensive Mexico references–seemed to be getting old, Ward’s script offers some plot to move the story along.
And the story is actually good for a grindhouse film. Machete Cortez is very much the Mexican Austin Powers, and at its essence, Machete Kills is the Empire Strikes Back of Grindhouse films. While it’s not a stretch to even make that connection, as some scenes are direct spoofs from the seminal Star Wars film, Machete Kills sets up the next installment, teased in the mock/non-mock trailer beforehand, and in the post credits.
It’s rare that a film series–one that started as a joke–could be successful and develop a cult following like Machete has. Machete Kills continues the tradition with fun humor, and over-the-top action, and explosions, and violent kills (there are at least three deaths by helicopter–all graphic and hilarious). The film series is already set up for the next installment that sends our Mexican hero following the footsteps of Jason Voorhees and the killer Leprechaun out into a space adventure, but really, where else could Machete go? And does it even matter? As long as Robert and Marcel Rodriguez have the drive–and story–and Danny Trejo has time in his busy schedule, the Machete Franchise looks to be here for the long run, and as a fan of grindhouse films, I can say that I’m glad.
Machete Kills is rated R and open nationwide on October 11, 2013.