There's a fine line between making an entertaining homage to terrible, cheesy B-Movie sensibilities, and making a legitimately terrible, cheesy B-Movie -- and Robert Rodriguez's outlandish 'Machete Kills' pretty much tears through that line with the bloody ferocity of… well, a machete! Gleefully entrenched in a kind of perpetually winking, ironic cinematic purgatory lost between parody, sincerity, and incompetence, the grindhouse throwback basically defies typical classifications of good and bad. On the one hand, as a deliberate pastiche of old school, low budget action and exploitation flicks, the film is supposed to be "bad." On the other hand, as a contemporary attempt at genuine filmmaking, it still has an obligation to be the right kind of "bad." A kind of silly, tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top awful that still displays an undercurrent of authentic filmmaking skill, cohesion, vision, and talent. The first 'Machete' managed to balance that tone rather well, but this follow-up isn't always so lucky.
After tragedy strikes, the infamous Mexican badass known as Machete (Danny Trejo) is tasked with an important mission directly from the U.S. President (Carlos Estevez). Charged with stopping a revolutionary madman (Demian Bichir) from setting off a missile toward Washington, our blade wielding antihero is forced to head south of the border to save the day. But as new twists and turns are exposed, the mission is put into jeopardy, and soon Machete finds himself the target of bounty hunters, warrior prostitutes, and Mel Gibson!
Due to its intentionally outlandish goals and throwback sensibilities, it's hard to really judge the scripting in a conventional sense. Layered with lovingly over-used tropes and clichés, the movie hits all the necessary beats to bring it in line with the many old school flicks it aims to parody and celebrate. To this end, things start off veering toward a very similar action/exploitation vibe as the first film, but as the runtime goes on, the B-Movie style actually starts to shift, and soon takes a few detours into other genres, including science fiction. In fact, the movie ends up having a rather heavy sci-fi bent to it, and while this shift can seem out of place, it's also undeniably fun.
With that said, there are times when the deliberately cheesy, nonsensical, and hackneyed dialogue, plotting, and characterizations just start to feel legitimately problematic and dumb. The flick's ridiculously over-the-top, juvenile action is relatively entertaining and occasionally thrilling -- with lots of severed heads, gushing blood, and explosions -- but most of the set pieces lack originality and creativity, leading to repetitive, senseless violence with very little to get excited about or laugh at. Likewise, the movie often features really bad effects work, and while these shoddy visuals are seemingly meant to replicate the low budget styles of past grindhouse films, the heavy use of terrible CG proves to be a lot less endearing than terrible practical effects. You see, it turns out that spewing computer generated cartoon blood from bad guys just comes across as hollow and lazy. It takes hard work to set up actual squibs and it pays off on-screen!
Thankfully, the terrifying, mustachioed source of all those gushing wounds and dead villains proves to be just as cool as always. Once again, Danny Trejo manages to be effortlessly badass as the title character. His gruff demeanor and weathered brow are a perfect fit for the role, and his unnerving gaze alone is enough to elicit fear and intimidation. Despite the mediocre material he has to work with, watching the actor hack his way through his antagonists is admittedly pretty fun. Joining Trejo is an appropriately eclectic collection of performers, including cameos from Walton Goggins, Antonio Banderas, the great Cuba Gooding Jr., and an utterly forgettable Lady Gaga.
Sofia Vergara also turns up as a vengeful prostitute, and while the character is disappointingly one-note, the actress really does go all in with the part, gleefully relishing every minute of her screen-time. Rounding out the cast are Amber Heard, who does a great job slinking about as the alluring Miss San Antonio (ella es muy caliente!), and Michelle Rodriguez, who makes a welcome return as Machete's one-eyed ally Luz. The real scene stealer here, however, has to be Mel Gibson who turns up as the film's ultimate baddie. The actor actually does a fantastic job portraying the movie's insane villain, though, that's probably not too surprising considering his -- no, I'll just leave that one alone.
Far more outrageous and uneven than its predecessor, 'Machete Kills' is kind of a mess of a film -- but it's still a reasonably entertaining mess. While part of me actually admires just how crazy and silly the increasingly sci-fi influenced plot becomes, the scripting and direction can't help but feel a bit happenstance and slapped together, and there is a general lack of worthwhile creativity. Deliberately replicating a low budget style is one thing, but the flaws here seem to go deeper than just intentional homage. Still, Trejo's deadly antihero remains fun to watch, there's lots of hot women kicking ass, and Mel Gibson plays a crazy guy who wears a cape -- so, the flick certainly has some appeal. This outing's less than stellar consistency has diluted some of my enthusiasm, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to the next potential installment, currently titled 'Machete Kills Again… in Space.' I mean, seeing Danny Trejo in that silly spacesuit again will probably be worth the price of admission alone.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal presents 'Machete Kills' in a Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet combo pack. A single BD-50 disc comes housed in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover along with a separate DVD disc and instructions for a digital copy. After some skippable trailers the screen transitions to a standard menu.
The film is presented in a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Despite its intentionally cheap, grindhouse sensibilities, the movie actually comes to Blu-ray with a truly demo worthy picture.
Shot on the Arri Alexa, the digital source is essentially immaculate, with the exception of some deliberate fake grain and damage in isolated shots. Clarity is exceptional, revealing an impressive level of fine details while highlighting every tiny (and large) weathered wrinkle and crease of intimidating character on Danny Trejo's trademark badass mug. The rich color palette mostly sticks to warm hues, emphasizing the heat of the Mexico and Texas locations, though some of the more sci-fi heavy scenes veer toward cooler tones. Contrast is high without blooming whites and the image pops with a strong sense of dimension. Likewise, black levels are steady with strong shadow delineation and no real issues to speak of.
While the flicks' silly effects work can be deliberately cheesy and fake looking, the image quality of the transfer and photography itself is rather exceptional -- offering a razor sharp picture with pleasing saturation and depth.
The movie is provided with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track along with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. Spacious and amusingly bombastic, this is a fun and lively mix that perks up nicely during the flick's crazy, over-the-top action scenes.
Dialogue is clean, full-bodied, and well balanced throughout, making it easy to hear every cheesy and clichéd line. The track features strong atmosphere and a wide sense of space, with immersive directionally and dispersion, and natural imaging between effects. The flick's frequent action scenes are particularly enveloping, with lots of whizzing bullets, explosions, and car chases that spread sound seamlessly throughout the room. Low frequencies also pack a solid punch, delivering some predictably rumbling bass activity. The lively score carries nice fidelity and separation as well.
With robust, outrageous effects and enveloping design work, this is a rowdy and fun mix that suits the film's cartoon violence well.
Universal has put together a small and fairly underwhelming collection of supplements. All of the extras are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
'Machete Kills' is an occasionally fun but disappointing grindhouse homage. Lacking much of the creativity and cohesion found in its predecessor, the film is a bit tedious and messy. Still, its outrageous action and fun cast are certainly worth some entertainment value. On the technical front, this disc features a demo worthy video presentation and a strong audio mix. Sadly, supplements are mostly lacking, but there are some deleted scenes and a featurette. Though the film definitely has its flaws, fans of the first flick and similar modern B-movies will likely want to give this disc a rent.