Welcome to Your Nerdgasm: 'Machete Kills'

The moment we see Mel Gibson in his element, full of beans and blasting away at Kyle Ward's crazed dialogue, Machete Kills becomes the certified guilty pleasure it's spent the last 45 minutes trying to be.

Machete Kills

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Amber Heard, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Walton Goggins, William Sadler, Demián Bichir, Mel Gibson
Rated: R
Studio: Open Road Films
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-10-11 (General release)

Guillermo Del Toro is often considered the king of the geeks, the movie maven most in touch with what post-modern genre fans dig. Quentin Tarantino holds a similar place, though his reach goes so much deeper into film that some are intimidated, or just angry, at his Award winning capabilities. And then there is Robert Rodriguez, the cinematic stepchild of these far more successful peers. At one time, he too was considered a up and coming auteur, movies like El Mariachi and its big budget better (?),Desperado, arguing for a new viable voice in indie action. Then...something strange happened. Rodriguez got sidetracked, turning into an attempted jack-of-all-movie-trades, while mastering few. He went the family film route (the Spy Kids franchise), horror (The Faculty, From Dusk 'Til Dawn), and crime/noir (Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sin City).

Then somewhere along the line he became convinced he understood the exploitation era and its wealth of taboo busting titles, and along with his pal Tarantino, he contributed to the fun if misguided Grindhouse. His feature, Planet Terror, was nothing more than an exaggerated horror romp. The only thing connecting it to the intended double feature throwback was...the title. He also contributed a preview for something called Machete, a supposedly lost action epic starring Danny Trejo as an "ass kicking Mexican." While the fake trailer was filled with goofball gratuity, it wasn't enough for Rodriguez. Responding to fan interest (always a flawed place to start from), he turned Machete into an actual feature film, one that, sadly, didn't love up to the coming attraction's perverse promise.

Now, he's returned with Machete Kills, and while still as scattered as the first film, at least Rodriguez understands where his dubious strengths lie. Forty years ago, we would have called his creative concept a 14-year-old alienated teen's notebook scribblings, a collection of hyper-stylized concepts meant to mimic an adolescent's ongoing struggles with a whole new world of sex, violence, triumphs, and tragedies...and what he or she thought was COOOOOL! Today, we'd call this a nerdgasm, a strange subculture of selections from a home video junkie's Jones list. Since the advent of the VCR and its twisted sister, the Betamax, the availability of film as a function of everyday life has created a community of obsessives, each one more convinced of their own knowledge of the artform. From martial arts to the macabre, softcore sexploitation to unusual foreign freak outs, it's this understanding that Rodriguez is currently cultivating.

The result of Machete Kills is made up of moments, of memorable sequences that have little or no narrative drive to keep them connected. It's still fun in a getting-drunk-off-the-forbidden-aperitifs-in-Dad's-liquor-cabinet kind of way , but you still get a stinking hangover when all is said and done. The story (not that it's all that important) sees Machete, once again played with craggy faced ferocity by Trejo, trying to take down a Mexican revolutionary named Mendez (Demián Bichir) who is plagued by multiple personality disorder. Seems his noble side wants the US to help him bring down the cartels, and since the President (Charlie Sheen) won't budge, his crazy side will use a nuclear missile aimed at Washington to help our Commander in Chief make a decision. Turns out, this is all the doing of an equally insane arms dealer named Luther Voz (a magically maniacal Mel Gibson) who believes the end of the world is upon us.

For their part, the drug dealers don't want Machete to succeed, so they send out their premiere assassin, El Camaleon, to do their dirty work. This is one of Rodriguez's most brilliant, and frustrating, inventions. The character is played by Walton Coggins, then Cuba Gooding Jr. , then Lady Gaga, and finally, Antonio Banderas. In fact, a whole film could be...built...around...this...chara - forget I said this. Anyway, with El Camaleon hot on his trail and a desperate desire to get into Mexico, kidnap Mendez, and get him across the border, our hero needs some help. His Black Ops handler, Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) provides support, as does Machete old friend Luz (Michele Rodriguez). Once they manage to confront Voz, however, things go from strange to downright surreal.

The moment we see Gibson in his element, full of beans and blasting away at Kyle Ward's crazed dialogue, Machete Kills becomes the certified guilty pleasure it's spent the last 45 minutes trying to be. It blossoms into the kind of movie Rodriguez has been wanting to make ever since he stuck an automatic weapon on the end of Rose McGowen's leg stump. Instead of measuring out his kooky cult moments in drips and drabs (Machete overturns a speed boat to use the propellers as weapons, he disembowels a man and then uses the entrails as a way to destroy him), the last 50 minutes are blissfully bizarre. There is one big point of reference here (something alluded to at the start of the movie) and we won't spoil it here. Needless to say, it sets up a possible trequel where everything he hoped the Machete franchise could be would pay off in laser beams and carboni...that's enough.

It's also at this point where the movie overloads into full blown nerdgasm mode. Even a crusty old critic like yours truly, cynical beyond belief and eager to shoot down someone taking such preconceived pot shots at our expectations couldn't help but smile once Gibson and his plan goes gonzo. It's like luxuriating in your first kiss, or your first KISS concert. It's every teen's dream, like having Neil Peart come to your house and teach your drums while a porn star models bikinis for you and some members of the WWE. It's Sophia Vergara as a scenery chewing, man hating Madame who wears a bra made out of machine guns. It's her prostitute compatriots kicking butt while wearing ass-less chaps. It's Lady Gaga dropping the F-bomb, or a sex scene shot in an incomprehensible (and therefore, safe) psychedelic 3D. Rodriguez could care less if he's making a movie that holds together as a thriller, or a noir, or a low brow comedy. He's just in it for the money shots, and Machete Kills is almost all money shots.

Maybe one day Robert Rodriguez will find a way to satisfy both his inner dork and the medium's needs. Until then, he will always sit somewhere below his better received brothers. Machete Kills is no masterpiece, but it's not an embarrassment either. When it works, it's a wonder. When it doesn't, it's easy to see why.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.