28 October 2013

Review: Machete Kills

(Dir: Robert Rodriguez, 2013)

The original concept of Machete is a stroke of genius. As a trailer in the middle of the Grindhouse experience, and playing before Planet Terror, it runs like a two minute comedy of everything you'd want to see in an excessive trashy B-movie, hitting the nail on the head perfectly. If it was real this film would be amazing! And then this short punchy idea was suddenly a 105 minute film, with a proper story and everything, and maybe for that reason it never felt like it quite lived up to its potential. The revenge theme in the original trailer fit right, but bringing in the weighty immigration theme, though real world important, seems almost too alienating from the trashy concept of it all. Yet the casting of a bunch of actors whom you wouldn't expect to see in a film like this was inspired, and there is plenty of throwback to the grindhouse era. As such Machete the film is never less than a fun watch, but it's difficult to wish the nature of the opening sequence or some of the more insane scenes, like the man himself jumping from a window using someone's unraveling intestines as a rope, permeated throughout much more of it. Both Planet Terror and Hobo With A Shotgun did a far better job with this aesthetic.

So did we need a sequel and does it redress the potential that's lacking? Well, arguably yes on both counts. Plenty of shitty films generate many sequels so whether we need one or not is a redundant point, but the fact we get more of the character Machete is only a good thing. The question of whether Machete Kills redresses the balance enough is a tough one though. This is a film with clear intentions to amp up the ridiculousness (obviously it's looking to take that interstellar with the repeatedly suggested third part), with a story that veers more into camp stupidity. If the original trailer suggested a certain grindhouse dirtiness that was mostly scrubbed away in the first film, we're in shiny clean territory now. Sure there's lots of over-the-top violence and excessive spurting and splattering of blood, but the overall tone feels like a late seventies Bond film gone awry, mostly due to the second half of the film and chief villain Voz (Mel Gibson), with his clichéd space obsessed megalomania. 

Gibson is an example of the crazy casting that Robert Rodriguez seems to be pulling off with these films, alongside the likes of Charlie Sheen playing the President and Antonio Banderas / Cuba Gooding Jr / Lady Ga Ga / Amber Heard / Vanessa Hudgens appearing in small random roles. Most of the cast from the first film reappear in some capacity (villains aside) and Danny Trejo continues to play Machete like the badass he is, but this time round you can really tell he's starting to look old. Yet too many of these characters don't add anything and feel pointless. What's the point of El/La Camaleón? That's a character with lots of focus because of an intriguing idea, but who never actually serves the story. Whilst both Mendez and Desdemona and her band of killer ladies appear to be pointless window dressing. Like last time round these are symptoms of an overlong film - kept to a lean 85-90 minutes Machete Kills would've had way more punch.

Machete Kills other big failing is the time it spends trying to set up the third film - sure that sounds like it'll be even more batshit crazy, but this film feels purely like a conduit to get to that point and so will struggle to stand on its own. All that said, Machete Kills still delivers on the fun, it's just way less grimy than it ought to be. At least Gibson manages to bring a touch of his patented crazy. Regardless, I'm glad there's someone making films like this and that they're getting released at the cinema, although judging by box office numbers how long that continues for will be interesting to see. Machete Kills isn't great and the first is better, but it's still damn enjoyable for what it is.

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