Tuesday, October 15, 2013

REVIEW PROOF: "Machete Kills" With More Over The Top, Gratiutious, Sublime Ridiculousness.

Machete (2010) was never intended to be a film.  The character and concept first saw the light of day as a fake trailer for the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse, the two directors' love letter to the film's eponymous film genre. However, the popularity of the trailer eclipsed that of the actual features (Tarantino's Death Proof and Rodriguez' Planet Terror, respectively). In response to fan demand, Machete was greenlit, with a cast that boasted the likes of Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, and Lindsay Lohan in a nun's habit (!). It made respectable box office and quickly achieved cult status through cable and home media strong enough to move forward with a sequel.

Whereas the original Machete was a send up of the Mexploitation/grindhouse films of the 70s, Machete Kills goes beyond and sends up various film, television, and even comic book genres of the 70s, including but not limited to Star Wars, Star Trek, "The Fantastic Four", and particularly the Roger Moore Bond films, with a little bit of 24 thrown into the mix. Machete (Danny Trejo) is practically a Mexican analogue of that era's James Bond, though substituting Moore's sardonic, raised-eyebrow smirk with a perpetual scowl and a predilection to refer to himself in the third person.  However, this film makes Moore's more outrageous turns as James Bond (Moonraker, anyone...upon which this film heavily draws on?) seem like an episode of Downtown Abbey.  Oh, there's a plot involving the Trejo's being recruited by the President of the United States (Carlos Estevez* in a ..."winning"...performance) to take down a rogue but insane rogue agent (Demian Bichir, who practically channels Al Pacino's '80s overacting phase...which isn't necessarily a good thing...) before he can use a nuclear warhead aimed straight for Washington, but the story just exists to string set piece after outrageous set piece.

For a film that serves as homage to an era of bad filmmaking, it is surprisingly good.  Rodriguez, who also served as screenwriter along with Kyle Ward and Marcel Rodriguez, manages to put in a plethora of "I didn't see that coming" moments that actually make sense within the context of the movie...as much as one can in a nonsensical film, that is. The violence is so ridiculously over the top, the Hershey's chocolate company must have made a mint for all the fake blood that was used in the production. While the violence is disturbing, it's so outrageously, bizarrely absurd that its almost akin to watching an R-rated "Looney Tunes" cartoon, albeit one with an inordinate amount of "T&A" (but who's complaining?).

Equally absurd are the performances.  As with the first film, Rodriguez has amassed an eclectic mix of "A" and "B" listers who are not only clearly in on the joke, but gleefully revel in it: Most especially Michelle Rodriguez returning as "Luz", Machete's one-eyed, off and on, kick-ass friend with benefits; Vanessa Hudgens as the tongue-firmly-in-cheek named "Cereza", Amber Heard as Machete's government agent handler who is also a finalist in the "Miss Texas" pageant; Sofia Vergara as a psychotic Madame with a very...special set of accoutrements; a very grown up Alexa Vega, who serves as Vegara's right hand woman; and Lady Gaga(!), Cuba Gooding, Jr., Antonio Banderas, and Walton Goggins, each playing...well, that would be telling. But the prize for the most standout performance goes to Mel Gibson, whose nutty presence is a perfect fit, both meta-textually and within the story, with the film's nutty shenanigans.  Playing a villain for the first time in his long career, Gibson shines as "Luther Voz", a billionaire "Blofeld/Hugo Drax" analogue (as if the "Luther" name didn't clue one in as to the character's alignment). Given the dark, self-inflicted turns his life has taken in the last few years, it is easy to forget that Mel Gibson was a very talented thespian under that once-handsome face.  This film reminds us of that fact. His acting exchanges with the stoic Trejo actually help bolster Trejo's performance; Gibson gives his all but reins in appropriately when necessary so as not to dominate their shared scenes.  Say what you will about the man's mental/emotional state, Gibson still knows how to capture attention. The film is a giant >wink< to the audience as Rodriguez takes advantage of the pop culture baggage attached to some of the players, using our acknowledgement of them to enhance the proceedings without overlying upon them.  It's very deftly handled.
There's really not much to say about Machete Kills other than the fact that it's a gonzo joy ride of insanity.  It's a guy film in the best sense of the word.  Who needs to juice up with 'roids when you can sit and watch this filmLeave all thought of coherence and physics at the door.  Machete Kills won't be everyone's cup of tea, but oh, what a sublime brew it is.

*Otherwise known as "Charlie Sheen".

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