Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Machete Kills
Machete don’t tweet
Jarv’s rating: Approved, by the slimmest of margins. Actually manages to be better than the original, but not great overall, and toning down the nudity? What the fuck?
It’s been a good while since I’ve done a vault review, or even watched anything that would qualify as worthy of the vault, so this one may be a little rough round the edges. I’d even forgotten how I used to lay these reviews out when I started, so had to go back and have another look. *shudders* I really have watched some absolute rubbish over the years, but in amongst that mess I’ve had nothing but contempt for modern exploitation and have singularly bitched each and every one of them out that I’ve reviewed. Ranging from the deeply repellent (Nude Nuns or Hobo With a Shotgun) to the deeply boring and underpowered (Cherry Bomb), this misbegotten Tarantino spawned subsection of cinema struggles to produce anything remotely decent and seems to be thankfully going the way of the dodo. However, I suspect that the most successful iteration of it, Danny Trejo’s unstoppable Machete, may still have one last hurrah left in him before the “movement” ends.
Contains Carlos Estevez and Spoilers below
I’m still not convinced that Robert Rodriguez actually understands what makes a good schlock film. I’ll go into why in more detail, but the first Machete had a stellar cast, a decent first half and then tailed off into being totally overegged and a bit of a mess, if I’m honest. As each increasingly ridiculous element was added to the mix, the film drifted further and further from the 70’s grindhouse nonsense it was affectionately homaging. By the end, it was basically OK, but little more than that, and only the good will of the first half an hour and the massive amount of exceptional nudity had carried me to that point.
This time round, it opens with the now passé faux-trailer (this time to Machete Kills Again IN SPACE!), and even this now seems tired, as if they’re running out of ideas as to what to put in these trailers. The wit and invention that marked the original trailers in the disastrous Grindhouse is absent, with simply nothing as hilarious as “NICHOLAS CAGE AS FU MANCHU” in there. All in all, this isn’t an auspicious opening to the film, and it’s frankly indicative of how tired they are with the Grindhouse conceit (something that, let’s face it, was always dangerously hipsterish). This suspicion is actually confirmed later in the film when we get ANOTHER shitty “film” effect (this time it’s lousy 3D prefaced with “Put on your glasses now”).
Machete (Danny Trejo), for those not in the know or otherwise lacking interest, is a Mexican killing machine. He’s basically an exploitation stereotype, gleefully dismembering people, banging hot women and delivering justice at the end of a ludicrously large knife. Machete Kills starts with our titular hero and his squeeze (Jessica Alba) foiling a corrupt arms deal by a shady bit of the US army. Except the deal is hijacked by evil masked scumbags, the leader of whom (sporting a positively spiffing luchador mask) cruelly shoots Machete’s chick in the head. He’s then arrested by two redneck cop scumbags who stage an impromptu hanging, except his neck is too thick to break. However, a phone call from the President (Carlos Estevez) earns him a reprieve. See, it turns out that a Mexican paramilitary leader called Mendez (Damien Bachir) is holding the US to ransom with a nuclear missile aimed at them. So, in exchange for his papers, Machete agrees to go into Mehico and bitch slap the motherfucker back to the dark ages. His handler is Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), and he’s pursued by a load of hired killers and all sorts of random acts of violence etc happen, while Machete is helped out again by Michele Rodriguez. Oh, and Mad Mel Gibson plays the villain. The film ends on a cliffhanger, by the way.
As a film, I genuinely think that Machete Kills might be better than the original. Furthermore, as a homage to the grindhouse films, it may also be a better stab at it than the original (still nowhere near Bitch Slap’s level, and it’s no surprise to report that Jacobsen’s film is still undisputed king of the modern exploitation genre). Having said that, however, it is not anywhere near as wildly entertaining as the first 30 minutes of the original, but while it can’t reach the peaks of the first one, it certainly avoids the troughs as well.
Firstly, there’s the acting. Trejo does his growling thing, which is very effective, and Bachir is entertainingly mental. Carlos Estevez, in his cinema debut (hehehehehe) is the out and out star of the show playing it entirely straight as the President of the United States, the man who legalised weed in 48 states, but is willing to cut a deal with Machete to go behind the lines, so to speak. Mad Mel Gibson is on song as the villain (first time he’s ever played a villain on camera), while Michelle Rodriguez and Amber Heard are decent support. I particularly enjoyed seeing Marko Zaror pop up, and actually think he needs more English language roles- he certainly convincingly kicks ass.
In a strange way, Machete Kills is actually more restrained than the original. The boob count is precisely 0, for a start, which is a massive disappointment, but more pertinently there isn’t the feeling of having thrown everything into a pot to see what you end up with that the climax of the first film had. While Sofia Vergara’s mental dominatrix and slutty assassin gang are easy on the eye they also fit into the film much better than the out-and-out chaos that happened in the last third of Machete. This restraint, actually, makes the film feel far less silly than it’s predecessor, even if the plot relies on an incredibly outlandish Macguffin.
The film feels tighter than other Grindhouse efforts, there’s nothing particularly extraneous to the plot here, and everything has its purpose. The adopting of science fiction to service the plot, albeit at a base sub-Bond Villain level, actually works quite well. The problem, though, is that the while the film feels tighter, more accurate and better made than the first attempt, it also feels flatter and less exuberant. There’s none of the gleeful joie de vivre that the original had, or even Hobo with a Shotgun managed to summon up. It’s still trying, and there’s still frantic mugging for the audience’s attention, but it just simply doesn’t provide the same laughs or sense of anarchic fun that I was hoping for.
But, paradoxically, this is why it’s a better B-Movie than the original. A good example is the performance of Sheen- he’s playing it totally straight, and isn’t winking at the camera. Rodriguez’ original Machete failed because, in the end, it was an elaborate joke aimed at low rent cinema. The successful films of this class are successful in their own right- they aren’t winking at the audience, they aren’t pleased with how clever and how fucking superior they are. They, above all else, were decent movies despite the limitations of budget, talent and distribution placed on them. Sure, we love them because they are sleazy, gleeful anarchic fun in no danger of threatening an award panel, but they weren’t burdened with this hipster-ish sense of irony that is beyond repellent. And until the modern breed of Grindhouse Cinema makers understand this, they’ll keep turning out movies that pale in comparison to the originals.
Overall, Machete Kills is an OK film, but a not hugely whelming B-movie experience. If you were completely ignorant of the Grindhouse concept, then it would probably be a decent time passer, and it is mildly superior to its progenitor. However, if you’re looking for a slice of cheesy exploitation goodness with memorably useless dialogue, more violence than is strictly unnecessary and tits galore then it misses the mark by a long way. I’m marginally approving it, as it isn’t unpleasant and not particularly boring, but I feel torn as to whether or not I want them to actually finish the trilogy, even taking into account how gleefully stupid the concept of Machete Kills IN SPACE is.
Oh, and Lady Gaga is not only fucking unattractive but fucking terrible too.
Until next time,