Film Review: ‘Machete Kills’

A surprisingly long-lived gag finally runs out of gas in Robert Rodriguez's noticeably duller, less outrageous sequel to 'Machete.'


Danny Trejo, Amber Heard, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Sofia Vergara, Carlos Estevez, Antonio Banderas, Alexa Vega, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Walt Goggins, Vanessa Hudgens, William Sadler, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan.

Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete Kills” is a sequel based on an end-credits joke from a film that was itself based on a joke trailer contained within a half-joke grindhouse homage. Exactly how many degrees such an endeavor is removed from anything resembling serious cinema would require Jean Baudrillard to calculate, yet for more immediate filmgoing purposes, all there is to see here is a surprisingly long-lived gag finally running out of gas. As violent as its predecessor yet noticeably duller and less outrageous, “Machete Kills” is dragged to the finish line entirely by its director’s madcap energy and an absurd cast of major stars in strange cameos. The Open Road release will likely be well received by fans of the original, while others will be forgiven for wondering just how much longer Rodriguez’s jones for intentionally shoddy, Z-grade filmmaking deserves their continued indulgence.

Since emerging as a DIY hero in the 1990s, Rodriguez has always been an inherently likable figure on the indie scene. At his best, he can tap into the most delightfully stupid adolescent fantasies and infuse them with a sort of earnestness that almost verges on sweetness — for example, casting Rose McGowan as a stripper with an M4 carbine for a leg in “Planet Terror.” At his worst, however, Rodriguez’s fantasies seem taken straight from the kind of adolescent who spends an inordinate amount of time with the school psychologist — for example, casting Sofia Vergara as a bloodthirsty madam who once ate her father’s genitals and strides into battle with a machine-gun bra and strap-on dildo shotgun that fires when she thrusts her hips. Here serving as a characteristic one-man crew, Rodriguez leans heavily toward the latter mode.

Reprising his unexpectedly career-defining role as the monosyllabic, mononymic Machete, Danny Trejo once again proves to be a master of granite-faced deadpan. Machete’s character motivations have hardly developed beyond getting the girl and killing the bad guys, yet he suffers a tragedy in the film’s opening reel and is offered something of a chance at redemption, as well as American citizenship, from the president of the United States (Charlie Sheen, here credited under his birth name, Carlos Estevez) in exchange for his services. Crazed Mexican revolutionary Marcos Mendoza (Demian Bichir) plans to fire a nuclear missile at Washington, and Machete is tasked with stopping him, placed under the care of a handler (Amber Heard) hiding in plain sight as Miss San Antonio.

“You know Mexico. Hell, you are Mexico,” the president tells Machete, a line that would surely spark a cross-border war were it spoken by a real-life U.S. leader. Machete proceeds to effortlessly infiltrate Mendoza’s Acapulco compound, where he discovers that not only does the onetime drug lord suffer from multiple personalities, he also has the missile launch device implanted in his heart. Thus Machete must fight his way back across the border with Mendoza as his captive to find the bomb’s American creator, the Bond-villainous weapons dealer Luther Voz (Mel Gibson).

While the first “Machete” was a far more complete film than this, it ran into trouble whenever it became convinced it had actual satirical points about race and immigration to make; marrying slapstick cartoon ultraviolence with, say, the genuinely upsetting sight of a pregnant migrant being gunned down requires a complexity of wit that Rodriguez has never remotely exhibited. “Machete Kills” aims for nothing more complex than sheer sanguinary lunacy, though it nonetheless contains far fewer original ideas: Heads are heedlessly lopped off, intestines are once again used as rope, the phrase “Machete don’t … ” is repeated three times, and a sex scene between Trejo and Heard ends with a meta-gag cribbed straight from Quentin Tarantino’s half of “Grindhouse.”

The film draws most of its charm from the obvious fun its supporting cast appears to have had on set, and Rodriguez has little trouble holding audience interest when he can simply introduce a new outrageous character every five minutes or so. Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba reprise their roles from the original; Walt Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas and Lady Gaga all make good with their respective turns as assassins; and “Spy Kids” alumna Alexa Vega finally completes her maturation from child star to ludicrously pneumatic sexpot.

Yet the spotlight remains trained on the film’s pair of troubled middle-aged thesps, grasping the career-rehab lifeline that Rodriguez extended to Lindsay Lohan the last time out. Sheen gets a chance to yet again have fun with his sullied reputation — his POTUS pounds tequila in the Oval Office, lights his cigarettes with a butane torch and receives red-telephone calls in the midst of a menage a quatre — while Gibson does another round of penance as a wild-eyed religious fundamentalist. (Other than Bichir, Gibson is the only cast member here who bothers trying to legitimately act, rather than simply posing and holding back the giggles. Whether it was worth the trouble is a question for another time.)

Costume designer Nina Proctor deserves praise for her efforts, which amount to something more akin to cantilever engineering than traditional costuming, as she enhances every actress’ cleavage to gravity-defying extremes. Fight scenes are filmed roughly yet largely comprehensibly, while explosions and other effects are often laughably slipshod, and presumably intentionally so.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Machete Kills'

Reviewed at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live, Los Angeles, Oct. 2, 2013. (In Fantastic Fest.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 107 MIN.


An Open Road Films release of an Aldamisa Intl. and A.R. Films presentation in association with Demarest Films of a Quick Draw Prods. production in association with Aldamisa Entertainment, Overnight Prods., 1812 Pictures. Produced by Robert Rodriguez, Rick Schwartz, Segei Bespalov, Alexander Rodnyansky, Aaron Kaufman, Iliana Nikolic. Executive producers, Boris Teterev, Jere Hausfater, Paris Kasidokostas Latsis, Mark C. Manuel, Anthony Gudas, Alfonso Barragan, Terry Douglas, Sam Englebardt, William D. Johnson, John Paul Dejoria.


Directed by Robert Rodriguez. Screenplay, Kyle Ward, from a story by Robert Rodriguez, Marcel Rodriguez. Camera (color), Robert Rodriguez; editors, Robert Rodriguez, Rebecca Rodriguez; music, Robert Rodriguez, Carl Thiel; production designer, Steve Joyner; costume designer, Nina Proctor; set decorator, David Hack; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Ethan Andrus; re-recording mixer, Robert Rodriguez; visual effects, Troublemaker, Rhythm and Hues, Hydraulx; casting, Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham.


Danny Trejo, Amber Heard, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Sofia Vergara, Carlos Estevez, Antonio Banderas, Alexa Vega, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Walt Goggins, Vanessa Hudgens, William Sadler, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan.

More Film

  • Matthew Modine

    Matthew Modine Accused of Violating Labor Laws With Campaign Videos

    Matthew Modine has been accused by SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris of violating federal laws in his campaign to unseat Carteris. The production of three campaign videos for Modine by the for-profit New York Film Academy — on whose board Modine sits — has been blasted by Carteris for alleged violations of federal labor law prohibiting [...]

  • Ready or Not Movie

    'Ready or Not,' 'Angel Has Fallen' Enter Box Office Race

    Three more contenders are joining what has lately been a hostile box office arena. Can anyone emerge from August victorious? Fox Searchlight’s “Ready or Not,” a black comedy about a diabolical game of hide-and-seek, will debut in 2,244 North American theaters on Wednesday. The low-budget film is expected to earn upwards of $6.5 million over [...]

  • Rules Don't Apply

    Warren Beatty and Arnon Milchan Settle Suit Over 'Rules Don't Apply' Flop

    Arnon Milchan and Warren Beatty have settled their two-year legal battle over the disastrous release of “Rules Don’t Apply,” Beatty’s period drama about Howard Hughes. Milchan’s attorneys have filed a notice with the court dismissing his suit against Beatty. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Milchan’s company, New Regency, sued Beatty and other investors [...]

  • Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a

    Bolsonaro LGBTQI Outburst, Subsidy Freeze, Stirs Outrage

    Ramping up the drive into censorship in Brazil, its Minister of Citizenship, Omar Terra, has suspended a call for applications for governmental TV funding – until new criteria are established for its application. The country’s secretary for culture, Henrique Pires, who reports to Terra, has resigned in protest of the incentive freeze. The suspension, for [...]

  • Adam Brody'Ready or Not' film premiere,

    Adam Brody to Executive Produce, Star in 'The Kid Detective'

    “Ready or Not’s” Adam Brody has signed on to star in “The Kid Detective.” Sophie Nelisse will co-star in the dramedy from writer-director Evan Morgan. Brody will star as a once-celebrated kid detective, now 31, who continues to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity until a 16-year-old client (Nelisse) brings [...]

  • Alita: Battle Angel VFX

    How Previsualization Helps Create Pitches for Projects Like 'Alita: Battle Angel'

    Filmmakers are increasingly using previsualization, a now-standard technique for planning highly technical shots and sequences, as a tool for pitching a project to production companies, investors and studio executives — before a single full scene has actually been shot. More creatives are relying on the technique, dubbed “pitchvis,” to fashion a compelling and engaging presentation [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content