A running gag skidding through all the fake blood and guts of Machete Kills is that the titular freedom fighter and vigilante simply won't die. You can stab him, shoot him, even hang him, and he'll still find a way to slice your head off with a swipe of his trademark weapon. That level of remarkable resiliency applies to Robert Rodriguez's unlikely Mexploitation franchise, beginning with Machete's conception more than two decades ago during filming on Desperado, which is probably where it should have vanished. With Rodriguez and Danny Trejo being best pals, the character appeared rather oddly in Spy Kids, followed by a fake Grindhouse trailer so popular the people demanded it become a reality. Rodriguez continues to give his audience all they can handle and more with Machete Kills, a ludicrous and awesome camp classic.
There are no secrets here, no twists, no turns, just pure violent insanity in the Rodriguez mode. He's always been a director who has embraced whatever cinematic vices are gripping him at the moment; such as scratching the kid movie itch with Spy Kids or dabbling in film noir in Sin City; and Machete Kills is his every twisted notion left to run amok on the big screen, and boy is it glorious. In this case that means delivering a hilarious opening teaser for the long-promised Machete Kills Again...In Space, complete with appearances by "Justin Bieber" and "Leonardo DiCaprio" (*casting subject to change*) in a film that looks like the incompetent cousin of Jason X.
The entirety of the film is basically an outlandish, non-stop prelude to Machete's interplanetary adventure, so there's never really any doubt where the film will end up, it's all in the wonderfully maniacal path to getting there. Machete is still doing his thing along the U.S./Mexican border, working for the federal government, when a bunch of cartel goons show up like lambs to the slaughter. Cut to Machete using his massive blade to electrocute one poor fool, lopping heads into the air like popcorn, and slicing one down the middle like a half-smoke. But the sudden arrival of highly-trained soldiers in Grendel masks put Machete in a life-or-death situation, until he's saved from a swinging noose by a call from the President (Charlie Sheen using his birth name Carlos Estevez).
The Machete films are essentially a form of Mexican wish fulfillment, and Rodriguez gets mucho enjoyment out of positioning the ex-Federale as America's only hope against a nuke-wielding mad man. The promise of a clean record and U.S. citizenship, along with the President's pointed insistence, has Machete parachuting like Bugs Bunny into Acapulco. From there it's a cavalcade of colorful characters portrayed by every name in Rodriguez's phone book. Amber Heard preens with devilish glee as Miss Santonio, a pageant beauty (she's fascinating even when painting her toenails) doubling as Machete's contact. Of course it isn't long before she's straddling the virile legend, but it's the only action Machete gets that doesn't involve spilling entrails. She sets him on the trail of Mendez (Demian Bichir), a former Mexican revolutionary with a Jekyll and Hyde split personality that has him cool and heroic one moment, a suicidal/homicidal maniac the next. Bichir, a refined talent who recently earned a surprise Best Actor nomination for A Better Life, relishes in the comedic gymnastics of the role. Even better is Mel Gibson as a Star Wars-obsessed, luchadore mask-wearing billionaire looking to start his own colony in space. Like Bichir, Gibson is capable of adding a dramatic weight that adds a real sense of menace to his character when necessary, while also recognizing that pretty much everything else is completely absurd. Gibson's always been a funny actor, and perhaps his personal issues are informing the way we perceive his villainy, but when he's truly inspired by a role as he is here, it's a true joy to watch.
Machete may be the ultimate alpha male but the flashiest roles of all Rodriguez gives to the ladies. He's always had a thing for crafting sexy and strong female characters, and there are a number of them here, even if most are psychotic. Sofia Vergara screeches like a banshee as Desdemona, a disturbed brothel owner whose Peso Pussy Tuesday special (seriously) is interrupted by Machete's interference. She's got an army of killer bitches (including the jaw-dropping Alexa Vega as Killjoy) and a deadly array of weaponized undergarments. Michelle Rodriguez is back for "taco time" as rebel leader Luz, but she seems tame in comparison to Lady Gaga, who struts sexually as The Chameleon, a villain who can change faces (and genders) at a whim.
Even with so many vivid characters it's the laconic hero Machete who shines the most. He's a guy of few words and deliberate actions who always seems to have been air-dropped in from another movie where things like Twitter and text emoticons are to be shunned. Even when he rips out a guy's intestines and uses them to slingshot the victim into a helicopter it somehow seems natural for him. Trejo really does have the best gig in all of Hollywood, especially when you consider his humble upbringings. Now he's surrounded by some of the world's biggest celebrities in franchise built from the ground up for him to rule. Pretty cool.
The film loses a little momentum as Rodriguez moves the chess pieces in place for the sequel, but then you realize it's all being done so we can get even more Machete, and that makes it perfectly okay. If there are boundaries of good taste to be followed, Machete Kills leaves them in a bloody heap. It's exactly what Rodriguez's audience would expect; bigger boobs, bigger stars, and bigger kills. The mind boggles at what lengths he'll go to top it.