Friday, October 11, 2013
“Machete Kills” (opening October 11 throughout San Diego) is so outrageously over the top that it blows the roof off the theater.
The character of Machete (played by the craggy-faced Danny Trejo) first appeared in a faux trailer in “Grindhouse” in 2007. The trailer, created by Robert Rodriguez, was so fun that people demanded a film be made to match. In 2010, Rodriguez obliged and he turned Trejo into a sexy action star at the age of 66. Now Machete returns for “Machete Kills.”
Rodriguez has never quite fit into Hollywood. He has had successful films and had Hollywood studios distribute his films but he never wanted to play by their rules. So he has been building his own studio in Austin and making his films outside the Hollywood studio system. This is one reason he can take Hollywood discards like Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson (both ostracized for their bad behavior) and let them mock themselves and have a grand, scenery-chewing time doing it. It’s also the reason he can make such a freewheeling, R-rated, bloody, sexy action film.
“Machete” was fun but it also maintained a grindhouse grit during its wild action ride. Sure, it might have been unrealistic to have Machete swing down a building on someone’s entrails but there were still some laws of physics at play. In “Machete Kills” all logic, plausibility, physics get thrown out the window and all you are left with is a gleeful sense of outrageous absurdity. There are two reasons why this works here but sometimes not in other films. One, Rodriguez sets the tone and our expectations in the opening sequence. I mean if your main character can spear a machete into a power main and send enough electrical current through the blade to his body to kill someone and walk away with just a shrug, well reality has just been shattered. So Rodriguez is smart in defining Machete’s world for us. If you don’t like the new rules then you best get out early. And the second reason it works is because Rodriguez and his gang are having so much fun that it’s impossible not to go along.
The story is somewhat inconsequential. The title says it all: Machete kills. But if you want more: A revolutionary named Mendez (Demian Bichir) have wired a bomb to his heart (his heart stops and the bomb goes off) and threatens to blow up the White House. Naturally, this ticks off the President (Charlie Sheen returning to his birth name of Carlos Estevez) who calls in Machete like M calling in Bond. Machete’s mission: kill Mendez and diffuse the bomb. But in order to do that he needs to deal with Voz (a manical Mel Gibson), the only man who designed the heart-bomb for Mendez. Along the way Machete gets paired with a sexy beauty pageant handler (a surprisingly fun Amber Heard), and reteamed with Luz (Michelle Rodriguez returning). Plus he has to square off against a fiery team of female assassins led by the double-D gun toting Desdemona (“Modern Family’s” Sofia Vergara) and the ever-changing El Camaleón (or La Camaleón when Lady Gaga assumes the role).
With “Machete Kills,” Rodriguez takes us into a Grindhouse comic book realm where Machete has super human abilities (like surviving a hanging and riding a rocket into space like Slim Pickens in “Dr. Strangelove”) and madmen like Voz can create henchmen clones. But the film maintains an inner logic that it doesn’t break so it’s easy to enter this world and then just go along for the ride. And what a ride it is! Visually, the film still has its roots in old grindhouse cinema meaning it looks like the film stock might be slightly expired and there’s a graininess to the images. The CGI work and blood splatter is knowingly cheesy, and the action is excessive and non-stop. Plus Rodriguez fills the screen with as much sexy eye candy as possible. Every woman has cartoonishly extreme cleavage and dresses like either a dominatrix or a whore. Some might take offense at this but the outrage would be misplaced. At least Rodriguez lets his sexy dames kick some major ass and look hot as hell doing it.
Trejo is amazing once again as Machete, and he’s an effing badass again. And he’s almost 70 now! His style is to do practically nothing and say even less. He lets the madness spin around him, like the eye of a hurricane. But when he does deliver a line or finally takes action, it is swift, succinct, and usually effective. The rest of the cast is a blast as well. Rodriguez has a knack, like his pal Quentin Tarantino, for offbeat casting and for resurrecting people who have fallen by the wayside. In “Machete Kills” he lets Sheen/Estevez and Gibson chew up scenery with delicious delight. They mock their own bad behavior and remind us that no matter how much we may disapprove of how they behave in real life, they are actors who can deliver certain goods on screen. And he takes serious actors like Demian Bichir and cuts them loose. Seeing how much fun the actors are having – and how freed they seem to be from the normal constraints of Hollywood films – you understand why people would be happy to appear in Rodriguez’s projects.
“Machete Kills” is obviously a popcorn movie designed for maximum entertainment. But I have to give Rodriguez credit for introducing some radical ideas into the fringes of mainstream American cinema. One, he has created a franchise with a senior citizen Mexican as the hero and star. I dare you to point to anyone in Hollywood who has done something this extreme. And despite the silliness of the film, Rodriguez actually takes the time to remind us about current politics and racism. But he doesn’t do it with a somber preachiness and political correctness. No. Instead, he does it through a humor and employs absurdity to make us think about stereotypes. Like having Voz kidnap Latinos because he needs workers in space to do his manual labor. That’s funny but with a bite. Plus, Rodriguez had talked about when he first saw Asian action films by John Woo, and came out of the theater wanting to be Asian. By making these Machete films and the Mariachi ones, he gives people Latino heroes and characters that can inspire the same feeling in viewers.
And two, he’s proven that a filmmaker doesn’t need Hollywood, that a filmmaker can set up his own studio system with its own stable of stars and technicians, and create exactly the type of film he wants and succeed. That’s pretty revolutionary and commendable. I think that’s what I love best about Rodriguez. He doesn’t complain about the system or how he’s been kept out but rather he just goes off and builds his own. I respect that and as a filmgoer I am thrilled to have films that break the rules.
“Machete Kills” (rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content) delivers ridiculous fun but what makes your jaw drop is the trailer for Machete’s next adventure, “Machete Kills Again… In Space.” This looks to take ridiculous to the stratosphere and perhaps beyond. Rodriguez’s joy at filmmaking and his steadfast resistance to obeying any Hollywood rules makes him one of the most exciting filmmakers around. So join the revolution and go see “Machete Kills.”
Companion viewing: "Grindhouse," "Machete," "El Mariachi," "Hard-Boiled"