Robert Rodriguez, co-director of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, has assembled an impressive cast of marquee names for the long awaited followup to 2005’s Sin City.
Actors like Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Bruce Willis are returning from the first instalment, while newcomers to the series include Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green and Josh Brolin.
Rodriguez welcomes back another name, Lady Gaga, who he first cast in Machete Kills.
“When I asked if she was interested in acting she said, ‘I studied acting and I always wanted to be in one of your movies because of the theatricality and the showmanship.”
When she finished shooting her role of a deadly assassin in Machete Kills, Rodriguez tweeted, “Holy Smokes. Blown away!” and promptly cast the singer in A Dame to Kill For.
For years, directors have looked to musicians to bring their natural charisma to the screen. Perhaps no one more than Nicolas Roeg has explored the potential for rock stars to become movie stars. “They have,” he said, “a greater ability to light up the screen than actors.”
In 1970 Roeg and co-director Donald Cammell made the psychedelic crime drama Performance, starring Mick Jagger in his first on screen role. The Rolling Stone played the mysterious Mr. Turner, a jaded former rock star who gives shelter to a violent East London gangster (James Fox). In 2009 Film Comment declared Mick Jagger’s Turner the best performance by a musician in a movie.
Next came The Man Who Fell to Earth, an existential sci-fi film about an extraterrestrial named Thomas Jerome Newton, starring a perfectly cast David Bowie in his feature film debut. Roeg says he “really came to believe that Bowie was a man who had come to Earth from another galaxy. His actual social behavior was extraordinary. He seemed to be alone — which is what Newton is in the film — isolated and alone.”
Finally, Bad Timing was advertised as a “terrifying love story” and called “a sick film made by sick people for sick people” by its own distributor. Art Garfunkel, of 60s folk duo Simon and Garfunkel, stars as a psychology professor living in Vienna whose sadistic relationship with a pill addicted woman (Theresa Russell) ends with a battle for her life. The sexually explicit film was difficult for the actors, and at one point Garfunkel even wanted out. Over martinis Roeg told his nervous actor, “I must ask you to trust that I know where I’m going. It’s a maze, but there is an end to it.’”
Garfunkel stayed on, delivering a performance that the New York Times called “very credible.”
In “Machete Kills,” the further adventures of Robert Rodriguez’s titular vengeance seeking ex-Mexican federale, the director comes up with new ways to cut a person in half. For the first time (in my memory anyway) a human being is bisected down the middle from cranium to crotch.
Unfortunately it’s the only new idea in a movie that slavishly pays tribute to el cheapo grindhouse flicks.
Danny Trejo is back and badder-than-ever as Machete. The man with the deadly machete is on the biggest caper of his career. Recruited by the President of the United States (Carlos Estevez)—with the lure of a green card—his mission is to find Marcos “the Madman” Mendes (Demian Bichir), a mentally unstable man turned terrorist who lives in an Aztec ruin along with a private army and a rocket aimed at Washington. “You know Mexico,” POTUS says to our hero. “Hell, you are Mexico!”
The trail to Mendes is littered with colourful characters, including a “man eating” madame (Sofía Vergara), a mysterious bounty hunter called El Cameleón (no spoilers here!) and billionaire arms dealer Luther Voz (Mel Gibson).
“Machete Kills” echoes the arch performances, over-the-top violence and cheeseball dialogue off the grainy old grindhouse movies that inspired Rodriguez in the first place. He nails the look and feel of those not-so-classic films—although he relies a bit too heavily on computer-generated gore over good old-fashioned special effects—but this time out he misses the spirit that made them great. I guess it’s harder to make a good bad movie than I thought.
It starts strong with a wild action sequence jammed with spraying splatter and gory gags. Stretch that out to a tight eighty-five minutes and “Machete Kills” would have been a fun guilty pleasure Saturday afternoon matinee. At one-hour-and-forty-five minutes, however, it feels drawn out, filled with scenes that seem to exist only to wedge another celebrity cameo into the story.
Trejo oozes grindhouse cool, but the movie itself commits an exploitation film sin—it’s dull. Scenes lumber along, blandly bereft of wit. Worse, the kitsch value that made “Grindhouse” and the first “Machete” movie so much fun is almost completely absent.
The movie begins with a grainy fake trailer for “Machete Kills Again… In Space,” the proposed third part of the saga. It’s a campy throwback to a simpler time and it’s a bit of fun. But at 2 minutes it also hammers home the point that a little Machete goes a long way.