Oct. 11--Action comedy. Starring Danny Trejo, Demian Bichir, Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson. Directed by Robert Rodriguez. (R. 107 minutes.)
"Machete Kills" is exploitation cinema, in the same way that a teen who pays $28 at the mall for a Sex Pistols T-shirt is a punk rocker.
The Robert Rodriguez production benefits from the contributions of Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen, two special effects houses and inventor Elon Musk. The marketing budget alone could probably cover three "Penitentiary" sequels and a reboot of "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry."
"Machete Kills," a sequel to a film that was based on a fake trailer, is entertaining, but in a lazy and inconsistent way. Even as you enjoy the over-the-top gore and deadpan comedy, the whole thing feels like paying $10 to stand behind velvet ropes and watch much cooler people get drunk.
Whatever fun you might be having in the theater, Rodriguez never lets audiences forget it was probably a lot more fun on the set.
It didn't start out this way. When the original "Machete" trailer showed up in the Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino 2006 film "Grindhouse," it made perfect sense for the film to get made.
Danny Trejo as a machete-wielding antihero is cool and humorous at the same time. It seemed appropriate for Rodriguez and Tarantino, kids who grew up on 1970s B-movie action films such as "Bare Knuckles" and "Death Race 2000," to pay homage on the big screen with 21st century updates.
Two films into the "Machete" experiment, "Machete Kills" doesn't lack style. Danny Trejo returns as the vengeance-minded Machete, who suffers a tragedy in a ridiculously violent pre-credits shootout. One of the charms of the film: Each action sequence looks like it was choreographed by an 11-year-old playing with his G.I Joe dolls.
Machete is recruited by the U.S. president, portrayed by Charlie Sheen (billed under his birth name, Carlos Estevez), who engages in White House bedroom four-ways and says things like, "Your nation owes you a debt of gratitude, Machete. Go kick some ass!"
A Mexican revolutionary leader (Demian Bichir) and a sadistic brothel mistress (Sofia Vergara) are routine villains by "Machete" standards, before Gibson shows up and the plot turns surreal. The former A-lister sets a perfect tone -- playing an arms manufacturer somewhere between a James Bond and Austin Powers movie villain.
It's good that Gibson is actually trying, because few of the other actors bother. Vergara and Bichir seem on the verge of breaking character at any moment, like "Saturday Night Live" cast members who can't quite stifle their laughter. Trejo is a national treasure, but he seems to be oddly disengaged here, looking as if he's on a corner waiting for a bus in scenes where he's supposed to be menacing.
Rodriguez respects his history. Among the greats on his payroll include B-movie special-effects legends Greg Nicotero and Tom Savini (the latter in an acting role). But as much as "Machete Kills" is a reunion and continued revival, it also represents a sort of gentrification of the exploitation genre. It's probably time to move on and let a new generation of kids take a crack at making bad films.
Peter Hartlaub is The San Francisco Chronicle's pop culture critic. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @PeterHartlaub
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