Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills, like its predecessor Machete (and the fake trailer between Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse movies that birthed it), concerns itself equally with comedy and over-the-top action, constantly tweaking the dosage so as not to tilt too far in one direction. Machete Kills is gleefully ridiculous, one-upping the first movie’s jokes, blood, and even its massively heightened self-awareness. No matter how Rodriguez would like to pitch it, Machete Kills isn’t really an homage to exploitation movies as much as it’s a parody of them. Its tongue is jammed so far in its cheek that it scans, at least in parts, like an Austin Powers movie, albeit one with multiple beheadings and disembowelings. Which isn’t to say it’s no fun—in fact, it delivers pretty much exactly what it sets out to.
Danny Trejo, again largely silent, plays the titular super-agent, an indestructible badass with a worldwide reputation and a rotating catchphrase (“Machete don’t text,” “Machete don’t tweet,” “Machete don’t die,” etc.). He’s called on by President Rathcock—played with winking vigor by Carlos Estevez, a.k.a. Charlie Sheen—to infiltrate the lair of a Mexican drug lord (a very funny Demian Bichir) who’s got a missile pointed at Washington, D.C. Sheen’s role is one of a dozen small parts in Machete Kills that elevate the movie beyond its Z-movie inspirations: Walton Goggins, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., and William Sadler show up, get silly (and/or killed), and then depart. As it should be.
That motley assortment—along with Sofia Vergara and her machine-gun bra, Amber Heard in a beauty-pageant crown, Michelle Rodriguez in an eye patch, and Alexa Vega in not much at all—rides along a needlessly complicated plot, either aiding or trying to kill Trejo as he attempts to bring Bichir to justice in America. The Crank-like twist: Bichir’s heart is wired to the missile, so if he dies, it launches. The biggest gimmick role is left to Mel Gibson, who’s apparently too hot for The Hangover Part III but just weird enough to play to type here as a religious zealot with dreams of genocide and a cult following. Gibson’s twinkle and sense of humor appear to have returned—he’s game to play Machete’s version of Dr. Evil, complete with a massive corporation (and ridiculous, over-explained Bond-villain plans) of his own.
It’s a minor miracle that Machete Kills doesn’t run out of steam sooner: At 107 minutes, it’s about 20 too long and overstuffed with characters that Rodriguez apparently couldn’t bear to leave out. But even when it drags, the film keeps firing enough silliness at the screen to remain entertaining: It’s never more than a few seconds from a fight or a gag, and its climactic battle combines those things and also manages to tease the Machete series’ potential third installment—Machete Kills Again… In Space!—whose fate presumably rests on the box-office receipts of this one. For a franchise that began as a three-minute joke, it’s come remarkably far.