Robert Rodriguez’s outrageous follow up to 2010’s Machete leaves little to the imagination. Machete Kills delivers the ultra-violence its predecessor unapologetically splashed across the screen, but with less realism and more humour.
Machete Kills picks up a short while in the future. The US government has erected a massive wall separating Mexico — a crooked political effort to limit and control the supply of drugs, increase demand and bolster profits — and our title character (Danny Trejo) is hired by the President, hilariously portrayed by a borderline comatose Charlie Sheen, to thwart a terror attack on Washington.
What follows is an exercise in high-camp, glamour and savagery. Rodriguez self-consciously weaves together the exploitation, action and spy-thriller genres and doesn’t skimp on detail, right down to the 1970's font and drop-shadowed yellow of the Spanish-to-English subtitles.
Rodriguez has the same penchant for innovative casting and plucking former a-list actors and b-grade names out of obscurity and onto the screen as Quentin Tarantino. The pair incidentally collaborated on 1996’s From Dusk till Dawn and 2007’s double-feature Grindhouse. Fake trailers produced during the time served as the inspiration for the Machete trilogy.
Lady Gaga shows up as La Chameléon, a gender-morphing renegade who echoes Ash, the robot masquerading as human from Alien. Gaga looks perfectly at home, deftly maneuvering ammunition out the window of a vintage orange Volkswagen van. She sports the same blonde locks as in the diner scenes in the Telephone video. If Beyoncé climbed into the passenger seat beside her nothing would be amiss. Perhaps, like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, Lady Gaga’s future in film could be promising if she sticks to playing herself. One of her only lines, ‘Hola, motherfucker,’ is flawlessly delivered.
Sofia Vergara as femme-fatale Madame Desdemonais is at once horrifying and intoxicating. The self-proclaimed man-eater commands a brothel of sex-workers who moonlight as highly-skilled assassins. Madame Desdemona maniacally shoots bullets from apparatus strapped to her breasts and crotch, a throwback to Rose McGowan’s machine gun leg in 2007’s Planet Terror. Her posse of air-brushed rebels come off as an NC-17 version of Charlie’s Angels.
Michelle Rodriguez reprises her role as Shé, a one-eyed feminist and revolutionary fighting on the good side of the war. Rodriguez, whose sexuality has been speculated on in tabloids for years, brings the same steeliness and athleticism to the sequel that made her a standout character in the first film.
While Trejo’s lines are few and far between, Machete Cortez remains a menacing presence, one with shoulders big enough to carry the stylish and bombastic trilogy to its conclusion.