Robert Rodriguez is the franchise king. His EL MARIACHI films kicked off a DIY career that has inspired young filmmakers looking to make action films on the cheap; FROM DUSK TILL DAWN sparked sequels that Rodriguez executive produced and now a TV series that he is overseeing; his most successful series, SPY KIDS, has seen four films and made whole lot of kids want to be adventurers; I'll even toss in the SIN CITY movies, since a new one is on the way for next summer. But the MACHETE movies (two, plus a trailer for a third teased in both films) seem to have captured something with audiences and Rodriguez. It's easy to get caught up in the childlike enthusiasm for action, but the films are also ridiculously violent and overtly sexual.
The MACHETE movies are Rodriguez throwing everything he has learned over the past 20 years, tossing it into a blender, and setting it to liquify. And he's built up enough of a reputation as a director to get an array of actors to line up for a chance to throw caution to the wind and act crazy. It's no surprise seeing people like Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Antonio Banderas, SPY KIDS star Alexa Vega, and of course Danny Trejo in MACHETE KILLS, but then you get folks like Walt Goggins, Sofia Vergara, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Hudgens, William Sadler, Amber Heard and even Lady Gaga in her first film role. Charlie Sheen plays a womanizing president who likes to say "motherfucker" a lot. These aren't necessarily shocking either to see in a MACHETE film, but you see the "kitchen sink" mentality of the casting.
But the two biggest surprises are the great Mexican actor Demián Bishir playing a schizophrenic mob boss who plans on launching a nuclear missile at Washington, D.C. Bishir has long been one of my favorite actors, and he elevates this clownish character into a genuine performance of a man who switches personalities unexpectedly. Sometimes he's over the top; other times, he dials it back. It's a much better performance than it has any right to be, and he nails it.
The other treat in Machete Kills is Mel Gibson as the very Bond-like villain (his first bad-guy role) Luther Voss, who seeks world domination by nuking a few select world cities; he's also a big Star Wars fan. Gibson plays Voss big but not too big. Gibson is smart enough to know that if he plays it too cool, he'll get lost in the noise and big performances around him. There's something slick and nasty about him, and it works perfectly in this cartoon world.
I think my favorite performer in both MACHETE movies is Michelle Rodriguez. Director Rodriguez has always portrayed women in his films as both incredible sexy and crotch-punchingly badass, and that pretty much sums up Michelle perfectly. She's someone you can't take your eyes off of (especially in the outfits she sports in this film), but something about her will always scare me.
I haven't talked that much about Trejo, whose Machete is recruited personally by the president to track down the source of these nukes and eliminate the threat. We know what Trejo can do with just a look, and I love watching his face go completely feral when he's chopping limbs off or otherwise slaughtering the badguys. Talking about Trejo almost seems pointless because he IS Machete; no one else could be. He has some great one-liners, and of course his sex scenes are the stuff of legend, but what more can you say? I want him making MACHETE movies until he's physically incapable of picking up a machete—the end. I'm curious to see what Rodriguez is capable of the next time he decides to branch out from his franchise comfort zone, but as long as he keeps making MACHETE movies, I can forgive him some of his lesser works.