Machete Kills it, but only halfway

ImageIn Machete Kills, Robert Rodriguez has created a perfect B-Movie.

Well, the first 45 minutes of one, at least.

The movie starts with Machete (Danny Trejo) losing a missile to unidentified assailants. President Rathcock (Carlos Estévez) then asks him to go to Mexico and track it down. Machete learns that the revolutionary who stole it, Mendez (Demián Bichir), has pointed the missile straight at Washington D.C. and wired the launch sequence to his heartbeat. Machete has 24 hours to get Mendez to America, where the bomb can be defused.

Machete Kills is wonderfully ridiculous. There is a ton of action, and all of it has gone through a few extra silly cycles. This is a movie in which helicopters can explode when their propellers are hit. This is a movie in which only a handful of people conduct electricity. This is a movie in which Charlie Sheen plays the president of the U.F.S. It’s filled with gleeful laughter and unrepentant, goofy violence.

Unfortunately, the shock of awesomeness wears off, and what was a romp of unbridled joy becomes a shamble through an overcomplicated plot that is suddenly important. Without their counterweight, the movie’s myriad flaws pop right to the surface.

There actually is a right and a wrong way to do a B-movie. Take Monty Python and the Holy Grail, probably the most recognizable B-movie. It’s actually a fundamentally sound film that was made to maximize abject absurdity. Watch it again and think. If someone cleaned up all the silly bits, the film would actually hold your attention.

Holy Grail is also constantly pushing the envelope. From the limbless Black Knight to the killer rabbit, the film never stops being stupid.

Machete Kills, on the other hand, gets lost in the weeds and starts to drag on. After the first few action sequences it starts to decelerate, and once Machete gets to America it comes to a screeching halt as a boring plot and poorly-developed recurring characters become more prominent.

After that, there’s nothing to compensate for the film’s blatant political agenda and extremely poor treatment of women. Machete fights against the Mexican Cartel and American corruption that allows them to exist, and the movie operates on the assumption that all violence in Mexico is directly tied back to that corruption. Anyone uncomfortable with these political implications will have difficulty enjoying this film.

Another difficulty that most decent human beings will have is with the movie’s female roles. Machete Kills is an exploitation film, and I get that. It’s supposed to be pulpy and exploitative and not to be taken seriously. And if there were one or two bubble-headed bleach blonds in there, it’d work. But there aren’t.

Basically, Rodriguez wrote a gender neutral script, then took every character that wasn’t Machete, made them female and subjugated them. Madame Desdemona (Sofía Vergara) and her prostitutes serve no purpose other than weaponized T and A. Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) and Shé (Michelle Rodriguez) actually do have function, but they’re sexualized to the point that all other characteristics are trivial. There’s too much sexism here, even for Machete Kills’ outrageous context.

When Machete Kills sits down, shuts up and shows us the blood-spattered goods, there’s a lot to like about it. Machete, Mendez and El Chameleón (Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas) are hilarious even in dialogue much of the time. It’s easy to enjoy the film for what’s right with it, but it could have been much better.

Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a staff writer for the NT Daily. Oh dear God, the U.S. government is still shut down. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at reelentropy@gmail.com. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. Be sure to come back next week for a review of Carrie.

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