There were times when Machete was but a bloodthirsty creature from one of the many fake trailers for the Grindhouse double-dip of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and Planet Terror by his old friend Robert Rodriguez. Yet a full-blown effort by fans eventually forced the hands of the two filmmaking buddies, and the character re-emerged as the hero of a trilogy of full-length features much in the same manner as the previous Grindhouse entries. Now the knife-throwing Mexican scarface is back for more with Machete Kills, but will he be deliver?
When his girlfriend, special agent Sartana (Jessica Alba), is killed, former Federale Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) is to be hanged for murder by the Texan redneck sheriff Doakes (William Sadler). The President of the United States (Charlie Sheen, starring under his birth name of Carlos Estevez), however, has a different idea. With the assistance of the attractive Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), he sends the lethal Mexican out on a mission to assassinate the Mexican revolutionary Marcos Mendez (Demian Bichir).
Yet south of the border, things don’t exactly go as planned. To get to his target, Machete must first go through a bordello run by the devilish Desdemona (Sofia Vergara), her right-hand girl Kill Joy (Alexis Vega), and her almost angelic daughter, Mendez’s girlfriend Cereza (Vanessa Hudgens). He still happens to find his the revolutionary but is unable to send him to the other side. Mendez has a nuclear rocket wired to his heart, and the missile will go off to destroy Washington as soon as he dies.
There’s only one way to defuse the weapon of mass destruction: Machete must bring the revolutionary over to the United States. Further complicating his mission is the enigmatic hitman Cameleón, who appears in all shapes and forms (Walt Goggins, Cuba Gooding jr., Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas) and seems intent on receiving the $10 million bounty placed on Machete’s head. And, quite incidentally, how do American industrialist Luther Voz (Mel Gibson) and Machete’s old friend Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) figure into the whole equation?
Even though the story of the merciless Mexican Federale is, in a way, nothing but an homage to good old exploitation B-movies, director Robert Rodriguez certainly knows how to assemble an impressive bunch of actors. The first part, simply called Machete, already attracted a star-studded cast of Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Steven Seagal, and Don Johnson to assist Danny Trejo, but the sequel easily tops every ensemble the filmmaker has ever managed to recruit.
Machete Kills, however, wouldn’t really be a proper part of Robert Rodriguez’s oeuvre without any allusions to other works to speak of. The exploitation references are a given, since they were already part of the original Machete. Yet the sequel contains tropes of older Robert Rodriguez movies as well. Desperado is referred to not only because of Antonio Banderas’s presence but also when the cell phone of Mendez’s henchman goes off and it plays “Canción del Mariachi,” the title song from that feature, as its ring tone.
Similarly, Machete Kills naturally hints at the one movie that probably established Robert Rodriguez properly in Hollywood, or at least among the film buffs, From Dusk Till Dawn. There are the Mexican and Texan backdrops, with all their shabby and shady joints, that also pop up prominently in Machete Kills. Then there’s Sex Machine, the loveable wacky character played by Tom Savini. The same actor appears in a cameo as Osiris in both Machete and its sequel. His trademark phallic symbol, a rather ridiculous gun from From Dusk Till Dawn, is basically turned upside down when it’s used by Sofia Vergara’s Desdemona.
In Machete Kills, however, Robert Rodriguez draws on more than just his own movies; he also digs deep into the realm of the Anglo-American science-fiction classics. In the second part of the proposed trilogy about the Mexican Federale, Danny Trejo’s character assumes a role of almost James Bond-like proportions. Not surprisingly, Moonraker serves as a point of reference for Machete Kills. The constellation of characters in the two films is fairly similar. The hero is pitted against a sinister antagonist – and Mel Gibson’s Luther Voz, the villain of Robert Rodriguez’s movie, is really a Hugo Drax of the 21st century.
Both megalomaniacs share equal traits as well as equal goals. Each possesses the ludicrous plan to destroy the world’s population (except for a few chosen ones) and breed a master race in his own space station. Since Moonraker was already, in a way, James Bond’s answer to the Star Wars hype of the late 1970s, it only makes sense to allude to George Lucas’s saga, too. Machete Kills does it by coming up with its own army of clones personified by Mendez’s bodyguard Zaror (Marko Zaror), who could, somehow, also be a copy of Agent Smith and his multiplying ways from the Matrix trilogy. Luther Voz, however, doesn’t even deny his affection for Star Wars, claiming that he has always been a fan of the George Lucas movies.
When push comes to shove, is Machete Kills as good as the first part? Despite its all-star cast, the answer is ‘probably not.’ Robert Rodriguez takes things over the top a little too much for his own good while trying to prove that he can handle a variety of genres and mix them into an intriguing modern blend. The space angle definitely deserves some recognition. Likewise, Machete Kills also distinguishes itself as the screen debut of flamboyant pop princess Lady Gaga and by introducing Modern Family leading lady Sofia Vergara to a completely different type of audience.
To a certain degree, however, you can’t help but feel that the original Machete that came out in 2010 is a more coherent work than the second part, with better pacing and a more interesting storyline. It has pretty much the same teething troubles that plagued Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon A Time In Mexico as the sequel of the brilliant Desperado. Still, as long as Danny Trejo and his larger-than-life character keep providing good, not-so-clean fun, it’s not a bad thing that they will return in Machete Kills Again… In Space.
Seen at Kinopolis, Sulzbach am Taunus, Germany, on 19 December 2013.