#ThrowbackThursday – Machete Kills

Original US release date: October 11, 2013
Production budget: $20,000,000
Worldwide gross: $15,008,161

Robert Rodriguez’s Machete (find that #ThrowbackThursday here) was one of my favorite films of 2010, so I anxiously awaited this 2013 sequel.  I remember feeling disappointed walking out of the theater upon seeing it during its opening weekend, wondering how there could be such a disparate quality between the original that I loved so much and this follow-up.  I randomly chose a film for this week’s column and this is the one that came up.  I actually dreaded watching it, assuming that my previous impression would be upheld.  And, while Machete Kills doesn’t approach the same levels of charm or imagination as its predecessor, it’s also nowhere near the disaster that I remembered it being.

I’m not even going to attempt to get into the details of the story contained within Machete Kills.  It’s structured like an episode of “The Simpsons” (hey, you can find a #ThrowbackThursday for The Simpsons Movie right here!), wherein the beginning and the end are miles apart, with a crazy, unpredictable series of events connecting the two.  Because of the nature of the film and the series’s continued tradition of parodying Mexploitation films from the sixties and seventies, it’s difficult to ascertain which creative choices are deliberately askew as a nod to the genre and which are potentially missteps on the part of Rodriguez.

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The film actually begins with a faux trailer for the third film in the franchise: Machete Kills Again . . . In Space!.  It’s a blast and I’m disappointed that Machete Kills underperformed to the degree that it did because I personally would have loved to have seen that film happen.  Rodriguez actually uses the Machete Kills narrative as the launching pad for that movie, and it’s quite an accomplishment.  Of course, when one is parodying a dead genre known for its tendency to eschew all reason, logic, and reality, maybe it’s not quite the task that it would otherwise be.

But all along the way, it’s tempting to criticize the film for such trespasses as illogical character motivation or unrealistic solutions to preposterous scenarios.  But it’s important to remember that, for this series, those sorts of flaws are exactly the point.  Just as with the original film, Machete Kills takes a tongue-in-cheek, irreverent stance on everything it addresses, never once requesting the audience to take it seriously.

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Even when the film’s President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen, billed under his real name of Carlos Estevez) is revealed to have built a border wall between the United States and Mexico, one has to resist the urge to see it as political commentary.  The first film focused heavily on illegal immigration and this was a natural follow-through on that idea, but Rodriguez has crafted a world in which nothing can be taken to mean anything.  Remember, this film came about before Donald Trump ever suggested building a wall (though I speculated in my original #ThrowbackThursday column for Machete that Trump used that movie as inspiration.  Having now refreshed my memory on this sequel, I’m more convinced of that than ever.).  Rodriguez aims to create a heightened and ridiculous world that would be too over-the-top for audiences to take seriously, and a border wall was part of his approach.  (Consider that for a moment.)

Still, even with the sense-of-humor and satirical anachronistic vibe of the original film in tact, the movie never quite gains the momentum of its progenitor.  The story is fast-paced but the supporting characters aren’t as engaging as in the original.  Danny Trejo’s titular Machete is truly the only character who can be called a lead, as all of the others are in and out with very little screen time, despite many of them being portrayed by notable actors such as Mel Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lady Gaga, Sofia Vergara, and Amber Heard.  In one case – the hitman known as El Cameleón – it makes sense (and hilariously so).  But the others are victims of a story that has a lot of ground (and space) to cover in a relatively short amount of time.

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Machete Kills lacks the inspiration of Machete but still has ambitions.  There are plenty of laughs to be had (many with your face covered by your hands in disbelief), loads of cartoonish action, and oodles of things that “Machete don’t” do.  It’s not as good as the first film, but that alone doesn’t mean that it flat-out isn’t good.  It’s possible that this entire universe is simply too far over-the-heads of much of the general audience.  The film failed spectacularly at the worldwide box office, even after the first succeeded.

I suspect that many saw the original film out of curiosity and then didn’t understand the satirical nature, having virtually no familiarity with the films being spoofed.  If most of your audience doesn’t like a film – warranted or not – they aren’t going to show up for the sequel, and that’s what happened here.  That’s too bad because, I repeat, Machete Kills Again . . . In Space! would have been a riot and precisely the shot of adrenaline that the series needed.  But I assume it will never come to pass.  Still, if you’re a fan of weird, quirky movies aimed at the knowledgeable filmgoer (with a twisted sense of humor), Machete Kills delivers, if not quite to the degree that its older sibling did.

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