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Review: Machete Kills (2013)

Machete Kills (2013)

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Premise: The sequel to the 2010 film. Machete (Danny Trejo) is recruited by the President of the United States to stop a terrorist from bombing Washington D.C.

What Works: Like the first film, Machete Kills works best when it plays for laughs. The movie has a lot of cameo appearances and an absurd style and so it often plays like satirical pictures such as The Naked Gun and Top Secret. The laughs are hit and miss but they land often enough for a movie that isn’t supposed to be a comedy. Machete Kills also benefits from its outrageousness and the movie picks up when it is most extravagant.

What Doesn’t: Machete Kills is to the original film what The Man with the Iron Fists was to Kill Bill; a feeble imitation that amplifies all of the former film’s weaknesses and none of its strengths. One of the important things to remember about the Machete franchise (and yes, this is a franchise) is that it started as a joke. Machete was originally conceived as a fake trailer for the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature Grindhouse; this two and a-half minute lark was so popular that Rodriguez went ahead with a feature film and the result was a fun and smart action movie, mixing over the top thrills with a political allegory. The original Machete benefitted from timing; it was released at a moment when debates over the United States’ immigration system were on the public’s mind and the movie made deliberate overtures to those debates. The 2010 film played as a live action political cartoon that managed to make broad social commentary while also being very entertaining, albeit in a frequently grotesque and exploitative way. For Machete Kills, all of that political commentary is gone and in virtually every respect this film is an unfocused, directionless mess. One of the problems of the original Machete was its surplus of characters and a plot that became unwieldy. In the sequel matters are much worse. Where the first film had several direct conflicts that tied together in a way that was basically coherent, Machete Kills is overflowing with villains and none of them partake in an intelligible conflict with the title character nor do they coalesce in the finale. In fact, the villains frequently drop out of the story for long periods of time only to reappear when the filmmakers decide they need to inject Machete Kills with an arbitrary action set piece. The movie is just a series of meaningless fights, chases, and shootouts that start and stop with nothing won or lost. While Machete Kills does not require deep characters or a complex plot it does need to make some kind of internal sense. Even absurd shoot’-em-ups like Crank and comedic romps like The Naked Gun have a coherent story. But Machete Kills often feels random, like the filmmakers are just throwing set pieces at the screen in an attempt to disguise the fact that the movie has nothing at its core. But even as a spectacular distraction Machete Kills is a disappointment. None of the action set pieces are memorable or even that interesting. The first Machete was so entertaining because of its trashy sense of fun. The filmmakers of that picture demonstrated audacity and showmanship—the essence of exploitation moviemaking—and they were clearly trying to entertain the audience. By comparison, Machete Kills is lazy. The chases and fights have none of the showmanship of the first film or of equivalent movies. Despite being full of celebrity cameos, bloody violence, scantily clad women, and absurd action, this movie is really boring.

Bottom Line: Machete Kills adds to the pile of pointless sequels released in 2013, a roster that includes such undistinguished titles as Grown Ups 2, The Last Exorcism Part II, Red 2, Kick Ass 2, and Texas Chainsaw 3-D. It is clear that the filmmakers of Machete Kills said their piece with this character in the first movie and made a sequel for its own sake. The result is a movie that has no reason to exist.

Episode: #461 (October 20, 2013)