Machete Kills (2013)

(On Cable TV, August 2014) I’m a long-time fan of Robert Rodriguez’s films (all the way back to Desperado on VHS), but it sure looks as if he’s spent the last decade repeating himself with a long series of sequels and spin-offs.  Machete Kills is the third film to be spun off from 2007’s Grindhouse, and it suggests that the joke has been played out.  Not that the film itself is unpleasant to watch: As you may expect from its neo-grindhouse inspiration, it’s suitably over-the-top, allowing Rodriguez and his ensemble cast to have a lot of fun by sending up an assortment of action movie clichés.  Danny Trejo is compelling as usual as the titular Machete, but it’s a toss-up as to whether he’s having as much fun as Mel Gibson (as a Bond-grade villain), Charlie Sheen (as a lecherous President) or Sofia Vergara (using her shrill persona to good effect, for once).  Even Lady Gaga gets a role as a shape-shifting assassin.  The action gets silly quickly and never lets basic disbelief being an obstacle.  It’s all good fun, except that Rodriguez’s low-budget aesthetics (tight framing, cheap special effects, lazy blocking, editing that allows actors to share a scene without ever having been in the same room together) are less satisfying than one would expect… especially once they’re repeated too often.  Rodriguez can command bigger budgets than he used to at the beginning of his career –he should use that power for a few money shots.  Still, despite the over-the-top action, shameless exploitation (often going straight to comic parody) and self-aware ridiculousness, there’s a sense that Machete Kills is a bit too big for its aw-shucks attitude.  By focusing on the comedy, it even loses a bit of the edge that the first Machete had, and the focus on violence while downplaying the nudity is a step in the wrong direction.  It’s too long for its own good, and in stretching out some of its duller stretches, invites tiresomeness.  It probably doesn’t help that this is Rodriguez’s umpteenth return to the same source: For all of the chuckles and I-can’t-believe-I’m-seeing-this outrageousness, by the time the end credits roll, there’s no need for a third Machete outing.  Let’s leave well-enough alone and let’s hope that Rodriguez does something a bit fresher for his next effort.

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