' Cinema Romantico: Machete Kills

Monday, October 21, 2013

Machete Kills

"But then I realized, there's not a lot going on up there." This is what a particular character says at a crucial juncture in the film of our title character, Machete (Danny Trejo), an unrepentantly old school ("Machete don't Tweet") secret agent, who has been tasked to save America and, by extension, the world itself. I would argue, however, that this assessment is unfair.


Machete may stalk through the entire overlong film with the same scowl, but this does not mean he fails to process the avalanche of exposition he overhears. He relays all the pertinent facts each time he is called upon for the 411, it's just that these pertinent facts disinterest him. Except they are only disinteresting to him because he is acutely aware of their uselessness. No movie in 2013 will include more gobbledygook about the who, when, where, why, and how than "Machete Kills." Everyone explains everything. In fact, they over-explain everything to the point that it's difficult to comprehend anything, and this is what leaves Machete with that dull scowl. Why all the details when the only detail that matters is Machete kicking ass? He's just in a hurry to get to the action scenes and can't understand why no one will shut up.

Robert Rodriguez's sequel to his 2010 opus which itself was based off a fake trailer featured in his 2007 two-part ode to the "Grindhouse" is far less a movie about politics south of the border and yada yada than a collage of characters and images and set pieces with purposely poor special effects and scattered bits of machine gun fire and push-up bras. There may be a few humorous nods to the "Star Wars" franchise but more than that Rodriguez riffs on Russ Meyer, in so much as every.single.woman featured features to the extreme their cleavage.

I don't mean to imply Rodriguez is a sexist. He lets his ladies - be it Amber Heard as Miss San Antonio and Machete's handler, be it Michelle Rodriguez in an eyepatch, be it Sofia Vergara running a brothel of scantily clad assassins - get in on the action, throw punches, kick people in the face (and other lady-centric places), fire guns, and the whole what-have-ya.

The problem is not the action's stylistic lack of style, the problem is there being so much of it. At first it's a little funny, but a bad key being banged on the piano over and over and over becomes grating after twenty minutes, let alone one-hundred and forty-seven. Canny ideas remain on the periphery, unwilling to even try to sustain themselves. I'm aware it's not the aesthetic for which Rodriguez is aiming here, yet each "Machete" film has desperately made me long for that first half-hour of "Desperado", a virtual ballet of action-movie choreography accomplishing nothing beyond being cinema for cinema's sake. Making movies cheaply and on the fly is admirable in this age of out-of-control budgets, and the man's work ethic is impressive, but it would be nice to see Rodriguez shoot for the stars figuratively rather than literally. (Yes, "Machete Kills" goes to space. Sort of.)

The actors, at least, generally appear to be having fun, particularly Demain Bichir, who is really allowed to cut loose, and Amber Heard who, bless her soul, is truly acting her ass off, and Mel Gibson as the requisite villain, playfully spoofing his own image and actually re-demonstrating what a clever, committed actor he is regardless of what a terrible human being he may (or may not, I don't know him) be.


Oh. Right. "Machete Kills" also stars Lady Gaga. You didn't think you were getting out of this review with at least a paragraph about this blog's beloved siren from the lower east side making her feature film debut in a role that may (or may not) be three (or four) roles at once. Which is key. You say she's merely playing herself, I say none of us even know who she is. The opening of the film is actually a make-believe trailer that touts Lady Gaga "starring as whatever the hell she wants to be." Which is sort of what she is and what her role in "Machete Kills" is. Whether she's really her, or whether her is someone else, or that someone else is someone else, is not explicitly clear, and would, as is often the case, be less interesting if it was. A chameleon in her own life, a chameleon on camera. So what if she's only in it for 120 seconds?

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