Machete Kills (2013)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #440


Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 11, 2013 (United States)
Sub-Genre: Action/Exploitation
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $20,000,000
Box Office: $15,008,161
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Producer: Robert Rodriguez, Rick Schwartz, Sergei Bespalov, Alexander Rodnyansky, Aaron Kaufman, Iliana Nikolic
Screenplay: Kyle Ward
Story: Robert Rodriguez, Marcel Rodriguez
Special Effects: Doug Field, Meredith Johns
Cinematography: Robert Rodriguez
Score: Carl Thiel
Editing: Robert Rodriguez, Rebecca Rodriguez
Studio: Quick Draw Productions, Troublemaker Studios
Distributor: Open Road Films
Stars: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Amber Heard, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., Walt Goggins, William Sadler, Demián Bichir, Mel Gibson, Carlos Estevez, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa PenaVega, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, Billy Blair, Jessica Alba (uncredited)


Suggested Audio Jukebox

[1] The White Stripes “Conquest”

[2] Brian J. Ramos “Telele”


You just can’t keep a good Mexican down. Take Machete Cortez for example; with a face like the business side of a scouring pad and all the personality of a rattlesnake, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he doesn’t get laid much. You’d be wrong of course as Machete gets laid whenever the hell he feels like it and never once has to plead for el coño. Any señorita he desires becomes a notch on his bedpost courtesy of a single grunt in their general direction. He can sever the straps of a girl’s panties purely with the power of his mind and can satisfy a quim like only a Mexican can. He’s Machete goddammit; the hardest motherfucker ever to walk the earth and mankind’s last hope whenever a plot for world domination is hatched.


In 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino double-teamed to bring us their Grindhouse double-bill, comprising affectionate feature-length throwbacks to a time long passed, Planet Terror and Death Proof. Of the five faux trailers developed as intermission fodder, Rodriguez’ own Machete was the first to see the light of day and, by 2010, the crotchety muchacho had graduated from filler to full-blown killer. However, the character already had a trilogy under his belt after appearing in all three of Rodriguez’ Spy Kids movies and Danny Trejo, a close friend of the director, still wasn’t satisfied. He pestered his buddy regularly until which time as Rodriguez’ defenses had been suitably worn down; then pestered him some more. Finally, through sheer bloody-minded endeavor, he was granted his wish, and the leading role that had eluded him for so long was finally in his clutches.


It turned a reasonable profit thanks to getting somewhat lucky with its R-rating but the Grindhouse features were only ever devised with a small niche in mind, thus any profit turned was a distinct bonus. I’m not entirely sure how the next couple of years panned out but would imagine random calls to the Rodriguez family home in the dead of night were in order as Trejo bid to further build on any momentum gained. Machete Kills was always likely to be on the cards after earning itself a fake trailer of its very own first time out and, now that it is upon us, there are some fairly substantial ground rules to adhere to. You see, Machete may be back and as badass as he ever was, but things have changed considerably during his siesta.


To have a good idea where things are headed, one only need check out the trailer for Machete Kills Again…In Space before our feature presentation. While this may appear to be an idle threat, I can assure you that Machete don’t joke. By the time the end credits have rolled; outer space will seem like the only logical option. That’s right Grueheads; deposit any brains in the buckets provided as you sure as shit won’t be needing them where you’re going. What started out as a knowing nod to the exploitation flicks of the seventies/eighties has degenerated into borderline spoof and this is sure to ruffle a few devotees’ feathers. The influences here range from Star Wars and The Last Starfighter to middle-era 007 movies such as Moonraker, a far cry from the original’s stomping grounds.


If Machete was tequila with worm, then Machete Kills is more than content with being martini shaken not stirred, and it’s certainly a bold move by Rodriguez. Enter a ton of flavorsome taco belles, cloned crooks galore, and more ludicrous gadgetry than you could cram into your attaché case. In true Bond fashion, we also have an evil mastermind hell-bent on global supremacy and the casting, always a strong point of Rodriguez, couldn’t be more inspired. Mel Gibson’s nosedive from grace has been well documented and megalomaniac malefactor Luther Voz offers him the chance to finally speak up about his time in the cinematic wilderness.


Like any good Bond villain he is afforded his monologue and it all rings mighty true. Many cast their judgement on Gibson a long while back for anti-Semitic remarks and domestic wrongdoings and this hero swiftly became something of a zero. Mine is not to play magistrate and, pariah or not, if he’s making movies then at least it’s keeping him out of trouble. That way, we all win. I don’t care if he’s a Scientologist, atheist, conspiracy theorist, hell he could be an alien for all I care. At the end of the day, he’s Mad fucking Max. While others around him appear to be struggling to maintain a straight face, his performance is speaking volumes for his commitment, thus he makes a rather monumental baddie.


Speaking of washed-up has-beens with the wrong kind of public identity, how about enemy numero uno, Charlie Sheen? Here he is introduced for the first time by his birth name, Carlos Estevez, and plays El Presidente just like his old man has numerous times. My gripe against Sheen has never been his powder sniffing, womanizing ways but, instead, the fact that I despise Two and A Half Men with unrivaled passion. As President Rathcock, he runs his office admirably and all is momentarily forgiven. As already mentioned, Rodriguez has no issue with casting the otherwise unemployable and so-called liabilities such as Sheen and Gibson give their absolute all, proving him right in his calculated risk-taking.


Once Machete has begrudgingly taken his orders, those being to track down a Mexican cartel member-turned-revolutionary by the name of Marcos Mendez (Demián Bichir) and prevent him from launching his love missile in exchange for U.S. citizenship and national pride, he heads to San Antonio, Texas, to meet his handler Blanca Vasquez, (Amber Heard). There’s even time for a little lovemaking montage and anything less would have been simply criminal. Now Mrs Depp and renowned mutt smuggler, Heard is hotter than a lava trench coat in Delhi and it’s only right that she gets a good refueling before our next screwy set piece.


After bedding her, it’s off to Acapulco to locate a young virgin by the name of Cereza (Vanessa Hudgens) who can lead him straight to Mendez. There’s a priceless scene where Cereza pours her heart out to Machete while also revealing that her chastity is still intact. By the conversation’s end, we all know damned well that the only word he paid particular attention to was “virgin”. Trejo’s face tells us all we need to know in this moment.


Then, once high-tech weaponry has been suitably stockpiled, it’s back to business for Machete. It would be positively ungracious of him not to choose an insertion point mere yards away from the neighborhood brothel en route to saving the world, and here we are introduced to the infamous Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara).


Say what you will about Machete Kills and I won’t be able to defend it on all counts, but any film to feature Vergara, then arm her bosoms with enough firepower to crumble a monastery, is alright in my book. The femme fatale is well accounted for here as additionally attested by Alexa PenaVega’s PVC-clad mean girl. Machete don’t grovel; these women are impervious to many things but the old dog’s showstopping snarl ain’t one of them.


Speaking of strong independent women with cojones, Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) reprises her role from the first movie and her inclusion is never less than welcome. She is the closest that we come to Machete with tits; using her one good eye to have his back whenever the fajitas start hitting the fan. Rodriguez exudes sass and brings absolutely no shame to the game whatsoever, proving without a shadow of doubt, that she’s not the senorita to be trifled with. Of course, we are treated to the obligatory girl fight with Heard’s Miss San Antonio and it’s just as catty and preposterous as we’d hoped.


Then there’s the small matter of El Camaleón, a mean-spirited mercenary with more aliases than Fletch but none of Chevy Chase’s jovial banter. Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Antonio Banderas play the man behind the man behind the mask but it is a certain Lady Gaga who fits the mould most snugly. She may not yet posses the range to be reciting Jane Austen anytime soon but her casting is inspired as she acts largely on familiarity alone. Selling her authenticity as nonchalant assassin remarkably well, she brings all the Gaga-isms which have afforded her the opportunity to mince around in meat frocks without anyone batting an eyelid.


Machete don’t fail! Trejo is clearly having a fiesta, despite not once letting on that he’s anything other than disgruntled. The trademark catfish scowl is present and correct but that’s as close to emotive as is ever required of him. If there were an Oscar for Best Leading Actor in a Mexploitation Film then he would definitely be in the running for honors. While those around him are losing their heads, both figuratively and otherwise, he still has that cold, steely look of a man who would pilfer your livestock in a second and do so with conscience clear. This is ultimately his movie and, after notching up almost three hundred film credits in little over three decades, I would say he more than paid his dues.


As for Rodriguez, he finds himself in something of a unique position with Machete Kills. There is plentiful slam-bang action and a fair peppering of smart dialogue, which he’ll willingly take kudos for. However, there’s also a veritable smorgasbord of cheese, much of which is anything but vintage, and he welcomes closer scrutiny as there’s still that all-important homage card to play, should feedback become too scathing. The bottom line is that, much like our leather-faced vato, he doesn’t give three abseiling shits or half a flying fuck whether some consider this to be puerile as it only has one prerequisite, that being shameless entertainment. I’d say it caters reasonably well on that count.


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Intestines become entangled in helicopter rotors, heads are disengaged using spring-loaded death utensils, and over a hundred hombres are granted their unmarked graves. Meanwhile, the molecule gun takes some beating, even though its settings need a little work as it has a tendency to turn its victims inside out where they stand. Fuck safety regulations; I want me one of those. The violence is toned down considerably second time around and this actually fits its eighties pop culture sensibilities down to the ground but doesn’t make it any less disheartening. Having said that, the original didn’t have these babies…


Machete don’t drool. But I’m not Machete. Never before have I desired to take a hit of shrapnel so desperately. Tell you what Sofia, we’ll fire off some rounds in unison.

Read From Dusk Till Dawn Appraisal

Read Planet Terror Appraisal

Read Death Proof Appraisal

Read When Dusk Met Dawn

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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