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Mr. Brown Verses Machete Kills

I don't know how else to say this, but I'm just going to say it: Robert Rodriguez is a madman.

See? The man wears a cowboy hat a large segment of the time! How does that NOT scream crazy!?
For the most part, I mean this in a good way. Before, I pegged him as a second-rate Quentin Tarantino wannabe, but after watching him and Rodriguez collaborate on 2007's Grindhouse, I realized that both filmmakers have not only collaborated in the past, but are close friends and found each other in the same year: 1992. I knew about Tarantino and his contributions to the rise of independent cinema with his shocking debut, Reservoir Dogs, but what I didn't know was that Rodriguez also made his mark on the rise of the indies with the first of what would be come the Mexico trilogy (Desperado, the second installment would come three years later in '95, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico in 2003) with El Mariachi, a film that was shot for $7,000.00, mostly through help from the filmmaker's friends. I mean, who else could bear the burden of being a one-man crew, almost literally? In addition to directing El Mariachi, Rodriguez also wrote the screenplay, did the cinematography and edited the film, and in the future, he would continue to serve as "the one man crew" in more of his projects.

The measure of brilliance and insanity is a razor-thin line, and RR seems to relish walking that tight rope without a safety net. From making family-friendly fare during the first half of the aughts with the Spy Kids series and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D (a film that his own son, Racer Rodriguez came up with, I kid you not) to ditching the Director's Guild of America in order to have Frank Miller co-direct his hard-boiled crime-noir comic book, Sin City, Rodriguez fearlessly walks the line without much (or any) regard what others may think.

This brings us to Machete Kills, the sequel to the the 2010 exploitation hit Machete, based on the faux-trailer attached to the Rodriguez/Tarantino collaboration flick Grindhouse. The last time we saw Danny Trejo as the titular character, he stopped the construction of an electrified fence and killed off all the main antagonists, banged Lindsay Lohan and rode off with Jessica Alba's Sartana into the sunset....or, I think that's what I remember happening. The plot in that film was somewhat convoluted, but the Rodriguez's timely satire on illegal immigration and the racist Minutemen-type characters, combined with Danny Trejo's badass-ness made the film all the more enjoyable to watch. This time, the ex-Federale has been hired to kill a revolutionary madman with a missile aimed at the United States by the President (Carlos Estevez, who strangely resembles that one guy who did all those movies that made us think he'd be a great actor, before he went on a coke binge, said crazy shit that became catch phrases and banged porn stars Bree Olsen and Capri Anderson.....nah, couldn't be that guy!), only to quickly realize that the situation goes much deeper, as the person responsible for supplying the weapon is a defense contractor by the name of Voz (a never hammier and funnier Mel Gibson) who has more, shall we say, interstellar aspirations for himself and the world....Add to that, a femme fatale known as La Cameleon (Lady Gaga, in her acting debut) hired to kill Machete for some undisclosed reason, a gang of irate prostitutes led by Desdmona (Sofia Vergara), a pagent beauty queen-cum CIA handler (Amber Heard) and She, the leader of the Newtwork (Michelle Rodriguez, still being the baddest bitch in Hollywood) assisting Machete and you have a fucking mess of a movie which has too many characters and a plot that is all over the place.

From Spy Kid to Uzi-wielding prostitute.
Seriously, subplots like the Gaga one are never paid off because we're introduced to her character and her motivations are never explained as to why she's trying to kill Machete, or who's hired her to kill him. Another subplot involving Desdomona and her whores are never heard from again after a car chase thought the U.S./Mexico border. Rodriguez regulars Alexa Vega as one of the brother workers and Antonio Banderas are barely utilized and even worse, given little to do. And yes, I used her close-up picture just to show how much of a stunner she's become since her days as a child actor in the Spy Kids franchise. The plot and character development is underdeveloped, and because Rodgriguez is once again drawing inspiration from the exploitation films of the 70's, the effects and editing look cheap and poor. When your effects (complete with a badly done CG-helicopter, no less!) make the Asylum's look better by comparison, you know this film sucks something fierce. Well, 99.99% of the time at least. The truth is that Machete Kills, despite the flaws, is still ridiculously entertaining from start to finish. Trejo, at 69 years of age, is still a certified badass, even more so than Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and watching him fight off dozens of enemies with his machete is just bloody good fun. The playfulness and the self-awareness of the whole thing remains intact, even though the material isn't as fresh as the first go around. Mostly though, Rodriguez's love for 70's era grindhouse schlock, coupled with his themes of Hispanic pride are still the driving force behind this B-level action flick. If the end credits promise that Machete will return for a third installment, I'm game.

** 1/2 stars out of ****

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