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Universal // R // January 21, 2014
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
It seems fans aren't the only ones that remember this. So does filmmaking wizard Rodriguez. He's still playing around in the sandbox of that movie experience with the sequel to the film Machete, which was spawned from audience demands for a proper Machete film following the fake Grindhouse trailer (which had originally only been intended as just that - a trailer for something in the mold of the Grindhouse films that Rodriguez and Tarantino wanted to pay homage to and build upon - not something that would become an actual feature-film to become released in cinemas).
So where are we now? Machete Kills is the 'proper' follow-up to Machete, itself a film that almost wasn't even made. What started as a punch-line became an over-the-top and messy film, something that if casually looked at was simply a silly B-Movie but that is actually quite entertaining despite some of it's apparent sloppiness behind the scenes. Machete wasn't a genuinely great movie-classic like Grindhouse is but it worked on its own merits and was immensely fun to see, especially because it was great to spot the ways in which Rodriguez successfully managed to turn his trailer into a coherent over-the-top joyride of extravagant filmmaking in the action arena.
Machete Kills is the continuation of Machete. It's a standalone story with some pieces connecting it to the first film. Several of the same characters exist between both films but the majority of the plotline seems to exist separately from the events of the first outing. This time around Machete (Danny Trejo) is continuing his work as an ex-Federale on a mission. He has become recruited by the President of the United States (Carlos Esteves, otherwise known as Charlie Sheen) to bring down a madman terrorist named Voz (Mel Gibson) who is planning to start a global nuclear war.
Machete must collaborate with new acquaintances, including Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) and familiar friends like Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) to stop the baddies and to save the world. Making matters more complicated for Machete is the mysterious El Camaleon (performed by several star performers throughout the film, including Antonio Banderas and Cuba Gooding Jr., amongst others, which I don't care to spoil further for potential viewers).
What worked best about the first Machete outing was the screenplay written by Robert Rodriguez and Alvaro Rodriguez. I enjoyed the silliness in the one-liners, the connecting of the dots between the trailer and the feature film, and the sub-plot which added social commentary about immigration rights. Taking a step away from the script and it was still clear that when it came to making the film Rodriguez was having the time of his life working on it and it was so jubilantly silly and over-the-top that it just worked despite the fact that it initially seemed like a film that wouldn't be capable of working on its own merits. Equally fun was seeing Danny Trejo finally take a step into the leading role that he seemed born to play.
I feel it's worth mentioning the script of Machete as it's best strength because that's exactly the weakest link in Machete Kills. The story was by Robert Rodriguez and Marcel Rodriguez for Machete Kills and I'm not disappointed by the story itself. It's the script by Kyle Ward that irks me.The writing feels generic and uninspired to me and it doesn't bring to mind any of the tributes that make seeing Rodriguez films such a unique experience from the perspective of looking at their stories and scripts. The only moments where Machete Kills screenplay felt more enjoyable for me was when it would make call backs to the first Machete film in a way that reminded me (briefly) of some of the things I enjoyed about it all to begin with. I also liked the opening of the contuining Machete adventure with it's silly voice over narration promoting the would-be sequel Machete Kills Again... In Space. These kinds of moments are what make the experience more fun.
The film's screenplay has some good moments sprinkled throughout but it feels lacking in the characteristic charm and wit of the writing Rodriguez always brings to his movies. This might actually be something that a non-fan wouldn't be bothered by being missing but the lack of his writing style was sorely missed. I know for all of Rodriguez's fans he has always had a lot of naysayers too, and he's often critiqued for his writing. Yet for me, Rodriguez was always a complete package filmmaker and his writing was a huge reason behind why I continue to enjoy his films and why I continue to revisit them.
Despite a weak script, there's still quite a bit to appreciate about Machete Kills. The performances are generally lively and it seems like the cast is having a good time making the film, at least for the most part. The film contains many extravagant action set-pieces and moments which will thrill action fans in many ways with some sequences even reminding me of the type of thing you would find in a Looney Tunes cartoon. It's never a boring film as the various stages of the story are underway. This film is pure silliness from start to end and some will be able to overlook its shortcomings easier than others because of the fact it's not something that even remotely seems to take itself too seriously. Rodriguez has also peppered the film with a number of impressive visuals, special effects, and set-pieces that are worth exploration. There are some really notable elements in this film from the production standpoint.
Unfortunately, Rodriguez doesn't feel as though he was involved in the film in the same way I would have expected to find. The production qualities remain constantly impressive, but it felt like Rodriguez was tired here and working through the paces. It seems as though he wasn't as interested in the material he was working with this time. At least that's the feeling I had from experiencing the film for myself.
To be frank, Rodriguez seems like he's bored this time, even if the material itself is never boring in all of its extravagancies. While Machete Kills offers up some good entertainment at times, it's never as fulfilling or as successful as its predecessor was and it just seems to tread somewhat on familiar ground without offering up a new enough experience to warrant the second trip. It's not a bad way to spend a couple of hours with some fun action set-pieces but it doesn't manage to be anywhere near as much fun as one would hope to find in a sequel to one of the most over-the-top action films to be made from an auteur of the genre. Nonetheless, I think fans will dig some of it in spurts, and everyone else will merely find it altogether underwhelming or dismissible: It's not a film that did well at the box-office, after all, which already shows a lackluster response to this sequel being made. Machete Kills is a sequel to a film that a lot of people wanted to see, but it's not a sequel that audiences were exactly demanding to be made.
Better luck next time, Rodriguez. (I'll always be a fan, through any creative ups and downs, but I hope to see more of his spirit - in front of and behind the scenes of the filmmaking - the next time around.)
Machete Kills arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer that is stunning to behold from beginning to end. As far as transfers go they rarely get better than this with regards to color reproduction, clarity, and detail. The depth of the image and the design is very immersive and true to the digital photography of the film. The occasional print-scratches and what-not are there by design for the Grindhouse tribute that is maintained and the entire rest of the experience is borderline reference quality in terms of the overall picture quality of this release.
Fans of dynamic and exciting surround sound presentations will find a lot to appreciate about hearing the loud and frequently thrilling sound design created and preserved on Blu-ray with Machete Kills. The audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and the lossless sound is immersive and abundantly over-the-top with every detail and sound in the track roaring to life with precision from all around you -- all with lossless clarity and whizz-bang showmanship. The film is one of the best showcases of great sound effects and implementation that I have heard in the past year of movies. This is a fantastic audio presentation (both in terms of the sound design and the technical implementation on the release). It's hard to imagine any fans of dynamic audio presentations being disappointed.
There are two supplemental extras included on this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD Ultraviolet Combo Pack, both running about twenty minutes: Making Machete Kills is a behind the scenes look at the making of the film with interviews with cast, crew, and filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. The second inclusion is a series of Deleted and Extended Scenes (i.e. alternate cuts of pre-existing sequences).
That's all there is to the supplemental department. One might typically expect more features on a Rodriguez release but there was never a Special Edition treatment for the first Machete film following it's initially near-barebones release so it may be the same scenario with this film. I mainly mention this in case someone is considering holding out for a fancy edition down the road: I wouldn't necessarily count on it happening.
Machete Kills is loud, over-the-top, ridiculous, never-boring, and frankly unusual in a way that only someone like Robert Rodriguez would even attempt to meld together into one streamlined film. The end results are a bit less satisfying than expected, though.
As someone who has seen every Rodriguez film to date except Roadracers (a made-for-TV release from 1994 that I still intend to see), I feel like it's not too much hyperbole to say I qualify amongst the director's biggest fans. As a huge fan, I would sadly say this one seems somewhat dishearteningly mechanical. It is technically well done but it almost feels as if Rodriguez is just going through the motions. I haven't been as disappointed by a Rodriguez film since 2003's double-bill of films which included Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Spy Kids 3-D, both of which seemed too stretched thin compared to most of his efforts. If you're a big fan of the director, though, it shouldn't be too hard to imagine it being at least a passable way to spend a few hours. It's not a terrible effort but it's one of it's filmmakers least accomplished works and less fun than the first Machete outing.
For casual viewers this one deserves nothing more than a rental but serious Robert Rodriguez and/or Machete fans will want to consider adding it to their collections, thus making the release a light recommendation.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.