Unlike the 2010 exploitation-film send-up “Machete,” which successfully mixed satire with flying entrails, the new sequel about a hyper-violent, hyper-masculine antihero — whose nickname and weapon of choice are the machete — uses a dull blade to hack away at the same targets that the first film so deftly eviscerated, namely B-movies. There are a few good jokes, but mostly the movie takes itself as over-seriously as the titular, cleaver-swinging protagonist, who never even cracks a smile.
Danny Trejo reprises his role as Machete, a former Mexican federal agent recruited by the U.S. president (Charlie Sheen, billed as “Carlos Estevez”) to hunt down a deranged terrorist (Demian Bichir) who is threatening to blow up Washington. The plot, for lack of a better word, quickly gets way more complicated than that.
Eventually, Machete ends up going toe-to-toe with an insane arms dealer (Mel Gibson), while trying to avoid the wrath of a brothel operator with a machine-gun brassiere (Sofia Vergara) and a shape-shifting bounty hunter called La Camaleon (“The Chameleon”).
That last role is played by a short parade of guest stars, beginning with Walt Goggins and followed by Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lady Gaga and Antonio Banderas. It’s one of the few gags that work, although Lady Gaga should not quit her day job. The singer’s performance is almost painfully awkward.
No matter. It’s all part of the game. Bad acting, narrative illogic, inattention to character development and storytelling so choppy that the film seems to have been edited with a, well, machete are what you expect from a movie like this, which originated as a fake trailer incorporated into the 2007 film “Grindhouse.”
The movie is supposed to look and feel cheesy. Here’s the problem: It could be even cheesier.
“Machete Kills” is at its best when skewering genre movies, or simply movies in general. One of the funniest bits comes as Machete is preparing to have sex with his U.S. government handler, played by blond bombshell Amber Heard. The words “Put on your 3D glasses now” flash across the screen, with increasing urgency, before the picture suddenly goes illegibly blue and red, as if we’re watching a poorly shot 3-D film from the 1950s, without 3-D glasses.
Such clever, self-deprecating humor is rare. Mostly, “Machete Kills” simply involves people shooting at each other whose allegiances are difficult to discern, let alone care about. In addition to the aforementioned warring parties, the film also features a Mexican drug cartel; U.S. immigration officers; a rogue sheriff; members of the American military; heavily armed participants in a modern Underground Railroad for undocumented workers; and weaponized human clones. It’s exhausting.
It’s also not particularly funny or engaging. And the movie goes on way too long, recycling sight gags and catchphrases from the first film in comedically bankrupt ways. “Machete don’t text” becomes “Machete don’t tweet.” And the image of Machete using the intestines from one of his freshly disemboweled victims as a rope might make MacGyver proud, but at this point, it feels like a rerun.
When the original “Machete” came out, I wrote that the idea of one sequel — let alone the two that director Robert Rodriguez was promising — seemed like overkill. The next film, now called “Machete Kills Again. . . in Space!” at least holds out the prospect of butchering fresh meat, in the form of science fiction films. Although no release date has been set for the third movie, which Rodriguez has described as a cross between “Machete” and “Moonraker,” there’s still time for the talent behind the “Machete” franchise to send their worn-out blades to the knife sharpener.
(107 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for violence, profanity and sexual situations. In English and Spanish with some subtitles.