Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
October 2013

Machete Kills

Joke's over

Robert Rodriguez takes his B-movie creation one movie too far in 'Machete Kills'

Machete Kills
Open Road Films
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay: Kyle Ward
Starring: Danny Trejo, Demián Bichir, Amber Heard, Mel Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara and Carlos Estevez
Rated R / 1 hour, 47 minutes
October 11, 2013
(out of four)

You know that friend of yours who never knows when the inside joke is completely played out, and so he keeps on doing it even though no one's laughing anymore? We watch as he desperately tries to keep the joke going, unsure whether or not he notices that everyone else has moved on, and that the comedy we once enjoyed has run its course.

He is the guy at the office who shows up in a hilarious outfit one day and gets a big laugh . . . and then comes in the next day in the same get-up, assuming he'll get the same response. He is Jerry, still trying to do "the voice" ("Hell-ooooooh! La la la!") even as Kramer and George have long since tired of it.

This friend of ours is Robert Rodriguez, and his joke is the Machete character that first gained notice in a fake trailer in Grindhouse, and it is not funny anymore. I say that as something of a Machete fan. But you have to know when the joke is over, and Rodriguez doesn't. He took a concept - a cartoonishly indestructible Mexican federale with Schwarzenegger-like fighting skills and James Bond-like sexual endurance - and turned it into a great fake trailer, then turned that fake trailer into a pretty decent full-length movie. And now . . . well now he's made another one. This one is another fake trailer, only it's nearly two hours long. The joke ended, only he hasn't noticed.

Rodriguez said a few years ago that he envisioned making a trilogy of Machete films - indeed, Machete Kills opens with a trailer for the next installment: Machete Kills Again ... in Space! - and it looks like he'll do exactly that. But at this point, it seems he's doing them just to prove he can. It's no surprise he was able to come up with enough material for a sequel - he's always worked fast, and he's never had any shortage of imagination. Even in a movie as subpar as this, his trademark energy is clearly there. But whether or not that imagination is put to good use is a different story.

The problem is, this series ultimately amounts to one long, recurring comedy sketch, with essentially the same comedic beats hit over and over. But just as no recurring sketch character remains funny if he shows up in every episode, neither does Machete remain funny when we're getting such a heavy dose. It was a risky enough proposition to turn the gimmick into an entire movie - but the gambit paid off. 2010's Machete worked. It was a success. Rodriguez should have quit while he was ahead; instead, he gives us Machete Kills, which is so relentlessly tongue-in-cheek and self-satisfied that it's downright boring.

That's not something I would expect to say about a movie that prominently features a clone army, a human chameleon, a villain with multiple personalities, gun-toting hookers, a nuclear missile triggered by a man's heart, nipple machine guns, magical healing pools, space travel and a man who can see into the future, but there we are. Machete Kills has all of that and more. Normally I would love something that unapologetically bonkers, but in this case the film feels more desperate than clever.

Early on in the film, after Machete (Danny Trejo) has been captured and his lover (Jessica Alba) murdered, he hangs from a noose in the sheriff's office of a small Texas town. (At least I think it's Texas. It usually is.) Machete's life (if it were actually hanging in the balance at all) is spared by a phone call from the President of the United States. And who is playing the prez? Why, it's none other than Charlie Sheen!

Because . . . y'know . . . Charlie Sheen! Right? Get it?

"He's still 'winning,' right?" Rodriguez is asking us. "Right, guys? Right?!"

Oh, if only it were 2011 again. Machete Kills would be so zeitgeisty. But the movie's stunt casting doesn't stop there. We've got Lady Gaga* as one of the many incarnations taken on by La Cameleón, an appearance-shifting mercenary who also appears as Cuba Gooding Jr., Walton Goggins and Antonio Banderas.

* I'm assuming casting calls for, say, David Hasselhoff, Kim Kardashian and James Franco went sadly unreturned.

I'll give Rodriguez the benefit of the doubt and assume that his choice of Mel Gibson as Luther Voz - a weapons manufacturer and the film's arch villain - was not done for ironic reasons, but because he felt Gibson would actually make a good bad guy. (Which he does.) If so, Gibson would actually be one of the only things about the film that doesn't reek of self-congratulatory irony. Even so, his performance can't make up for a movie that plays out like one long trailer for itself.


Read more by Chris Bellamy


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