How can anyone who loves movies (A-, B-, or C-) enjoy Robert Rodriguez’s Machete and its tedious sequel, Machete Kills? The joke of the hulking, ravaged Danny Trejo as a lady-killing, villain-dismembering supercop—a bad Mexican—is enough to power a couple of tongue-in-cheek trailers, but the features have no motor, no inner life. Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino, his brutal homages burrow deep into the collective unconscious of sleaze freaks—into weird, disturbing areas that can make you rethink your affection for onscreen violence even if he never will. But Tarantino has been a terrible influence on Rodriguez, whose similar efforts are weightless spectacles that assume we go to action pictures only to get off. The carnage (with its computer-generated splatter) is meant to be campy fun, but it’s so offhand that there’s less suspense than in an Austin Powers movie. And I find it hard to giggle at massacres along the U.S.-Mexican border played for laughs. You’d think it would be even harder for Rodriguez.
The actors are degraded in Machete Kills. Trejo is meant as an avatar of cool, but as young women (among them Amber Heard) drape themselves over him, the gag goes sour—it seems as if he’s being made fun of. Charlie Sheen (under his other name, Carlos Estevez) brings nothing but his dulled self to the U.S. president who recruits Machete to kill an ex-revolutionary madman named Mendez (hammy Demian Bichir). Lady Gaga shows up at one point, but I’ve seen more entertaining Gaga impersonators on the streets of Provincetown. Mel Gibson looks old and dissipated as the big bad guy, but at least he has style. And his psychotic rants are the only things in Machete Kills that feel remotely authentic.