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‘Machete Kills’: Dulled by an excess of excess

A low point “Machete Kills” is screechy performance by SofiVergaras madam who wears machinegun brfor no apparent reason.

A low point of “Machete Kills” is the screechy performance by Sofia Vergara as a madam who wears a machinegun bra for no apparent reason.

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‘MACHETE KILLS’ ★★

Machete Danny Trejo

Luz Michelle Rodriguez

Mendez Demian Bichir

Desdemona Sofia Vergara

Miss San Antonio Amber Heard

Voz Mel Gibson

Open Road Films presents a film directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Kyle Ward. Running time: 107 minutes. Rated R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: November 12, 2013 6:11AM



When you cast Charlie Sheen as the foul-mouthed, shot-drinking, womanizing president of the United States and Mel Gibson as an utterly nutters villain, either you’re trying way too hard — or you’re going for the easy and obvious laughs.

“Machete Kills” does a little of both.

The first “Machete,” released in 2010 and inspired by a fake trailer that was part of Quentin Tarantino’s “Grindhouse” double feature from 2007, was bloody good fun. I kinda loved it. After decades of playing convicts and killers in dozens of movies and TV shows, Danny Trejo was front and center in Robert Rodriguez’ wickedly funny and cartoonishly violent homage to the B movies of a generation ago.

With “Machete Kills,” the 69-year-old Trejo’s once again in the lead, surrounded by a hilariously eclectic cast ranging from the aforementioned Hollywood scandal kings to returning characters played by Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez to the likes of Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Hudgens, Sofia Vergara and Lady Gaga.

It’s equal-opportunity exploitation, with the women talking at least much trash and firing at least as many rounds as the men — but the harder everyone tries to wring laughs out of the next hail of bullets or the next ridiculous plot twist or the next comedic decapitation, the duller the edge of the humor.

“Machete don’t tweet,” Machete scowls. Yes, but Machete DOES wear out his welcome.

Trejo’s Machete, a box-shaped killing machine who’s shorter than just about everyone else in the movie but still commands attention with his Mount Slashmore face, never cracks a smile or shows much emotion, even when cradling a dead lover in his arms, vowing revenge against his foes, or making love with yet another vixen about a third his age. That’s the deadpan charm of Machete.

The president invites Machete to the White House, pours him a shot of tequila and offers a deal: If Machete can take down Mendez (Demian Bichir), the crazed Mexican revolutionary pointing a missile at Washington, Machete’s extensive criminal record will be wiped clean and Machete will instantly become a U.S. citizen. (Obviously this all takes place before the government was shut down.)

Amber Heard, Miss San Antonio, is really a federal agent who’s Machete’s handler. She’s undercover at the Miss Texas pageant, which seems to go on for weeks according to the movie’s timeline, just so Ms. Heard can wear sparkly gowns and talk about her dual life as a secret agent as well as a pageant contestant worried about Miss Corpus Christi’s assets.

Weird as that is, Miss San Antonio’s only about the seventh most bizarre character in “Machete Kills.” Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas and Lady Gaga all play the same character (really), with Gooding delivering the funniest performance and Gaga proving to be a surprisingly wooden actress in her brief screen time.

Sofia Vergara plays a madam who shrieks her lines and attaches weapons to her breasts and genitalia because someone thought that would be funny. It’s a god-awful performance.

There’s a lot of double-crossing, and double-double-crossing, going on here. For reasons muddled amidst the ever-mounting body count, Machete’s mission to take down Mendez leads him to the bizarrely costumed Luther Voz, an insane arms dealer with plans to start a nuclear war, which he’ll be able to survive by floating around in space in a station staffed by cheap labor. I think.

And did I mention Mendez has wired the triggering device for a nuclear missile to his own heart? It’s like he saw “Iron Man” and was inspired to come up with a sicko variation on the theme.

Gibson looks old and tired, but he adds a spark or two of humor as the ridiculously ruthless Voz. Say what you will about Mel, he understands the best way to play comedy like this is to act as if you’re not in on the joke.

We already know Sheen (billed here as Carlos Estevez) can poke fun at his own party image, so there’s not much of a joke in seeing him as a president who has three women in bed with him when the red phone rings in the middle of the night.

Rodriguez is far too talented a filmmaker to deliver a product devoid of some choice moments. Trejo’s sex scene with Heard has a terrific visual punch line, and Machete’s work with a sword described as “the Swiss Army knife of machetes” is slashingly creative. But by the time Machete makes his way to outer space, the B-movie touches have lost their novelty and the joke has worn thin.

It appears as if there’s going to be a “Machete 3,” but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the movie world if the trailer for the next installment of “Machete” remains just a trailer and not the promise of a trilogy.

Machete don’t sequel too well.

Email: rroeper@suntimes.com

Twitter: @richardroeper



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