‘Machete Kills’ kills franchise on second movie

Hollywood Soapbox logoThe cinematic work of Robert Rodriguez, including Planet Terror and Sin City, is usually a lot of fun. The director knows how to tell a violent, funny, stylized tale in the same spirit as Quentin Tarantino or even Martin Scorsese.

The character of Machete, played by Danny Trejo, seems like an easy fit for Rodriguez’s repertoire. The secret agent took no prisoners and kicked major butt in the original film Machete, but the same energy is not sustained in Machete Kills. In fact, Machete Kills seems like it was directed by someone trying to imitate Rodriguez, rather than Rodriguez himself.

It’s sad to report that by his second movie, Machete Cortez appears to be, well, macheted to death.

Machete Kills finds the title character trying to stop the diabolical intentions of a terrorist leader named Voz (Mel Gibson). A to-die-for ensemble, featuring Charlie Sheen, Demian Bichir, Michelle Rodriguez and Sofía Vergara, surround Machete’s quest to end Voz’s tyranny; however, no single actor stands out among the cast. Except for Trejo, the movie feels like a patchwork of needless cameos, an excuse to give a bunch of actors the “Rodriguez” treatment. Even Lady Gaga turns up. Enough said.

Although humor is largely missing from Machete Kills (unless you count ridiculousness as humor), the violent action is still present. In the grindhouse mentality, Rodriguez knows how to stage cinematic theatrics with plenty of explosions and shootouts. However, after a few fights, the action becomes somewhat numbing and inconsequential. Not that anyone is expecting deep character development in a movie titled Machete Kills, but it would have been nice to see the main character evolve a bit. As it stands, the movie feels like deleted scenes from the original film.

In previous Rodriguez efforts, stylized violence has been paired with a thoughtful storyline and well-carved-out characters. Machete Kills features none of these elements. From the first minute to the last, it’s an all-out war where bodies are strewn left and right. For audience members interested in such vacuous entertainment, the movie may impress. For those wishing for a clever homage to grindhouse films and another thrilling action flick from a respected director, the movie fails miserably.

As an actor, Trejo has great potential to break from the stereotypes associated with many action stars. He undoubtedly has charisma, coupling violence with calmness in a unique way. The script, written by Kyle Ward, needs to offer more scenes in between the kick-buttery. A quiet, contemplative man on screen can work (just look at the history of samurai films), but we need to see that contemplation. We need to understand motives and influences. The humor and violent stylizations only work if the audience cares enough to suspend their expectations of any reason. If the audience is willing to travel down the path to “anything-can-happen” land, Machete Kills would be fine entertainment. As it stands, there’s no impetus to follow Machete on this journey into hellish America.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Machete Kills

  • 2013

  • Directed by Robert Rodriguez

  • Written by Kyle Ward; based on a story by Rodriguez and Marcel Rodriguez

  • Starring Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Cuba Gooding Jr., Sofía Vergara, Michelle Rodriguez, Amber Heard, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga and Antonio Banderas

  • Running time: 109 minutes

  • Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content

  • Rating: ★★☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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