Sunday, August 28, 2016

"The Expendables 3," "Machete," and "Machete Kills":
a three-fer review

A couple months ago, I watched three goofy, testosterone-drenched action movies in rapid succession: "The Expendables 3," "Machete," and "Machete Kills." What struck me, after watching the final film, was that these three movies are Exhibits A, B, and C for the incestuous nature of Hollywood creativity. To wit:

1. The "Machete" movies are directed by Robert Rodriguez, the nutty director of "Desperado" and "Once Upon a Time in Mexico." He's known for collaborating with Quentin Tarantino. Case in point: "Sin City," directed by Rodriguez (and, apparently, comic-book writer and artist Frank Miller), which included a scene that was directed by Tarantino.

2. The "Machete" movies are an outgrowth of a Rodriguez/Tarantino collaboration called "Grindhouse," in which the directors put together 70s-style pulp movies. A mock preview trailer that showed a clip of a teeth-baring Danny Trejo flying through the air—on a motorcycle with a helicopter minigun on it—was the seed that grew into the "Machete" films, the first of which features the motorcycle-flying moment.

3. Antonio Banderas often stars in Rodriguez's films. He isn't in the "Machete" movies, but he's in "The Expendables 3," thus giving that movie a "degree of separation" from "Machete."

4. Mel Gibson plays the main bad guy in both "Machete Kills" and "The Expendables 3." At a guess, he's still working off his bad karma; by playing bad guys, he's admitting to the public, "Yeah: I've been a racist, sexist, drunken asshole. Now please forgive me while I entertain you with some on-screen badness." Gibson's participation in both of these films puts him a degree of separation away from Tarantino.

5. Danny Trejo played a knife-throwing heavy in Robert Rodriguez's "Desperado" opposite Antonio Banderas's hero. He also had a role in Rodriguez's "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," which also co-starred Mickey Rourke, who also appeared in the first "Expendables" movie.

6. Actor Damián Bichir plays a psycho in "Machete Kills." He also plays the criminal "Bob" in Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight."

"Machete" follows the exploits of Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo), a Mexican Federal whose life is ruined by a drug lord named Rogelio Torrez (Steven Seagal, speaking a lot of Spanish—and not too badly, I might add). Machete crosses the border into the States, where he gets caught up in a scam involving Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), a Trump-like pol who wants to build a border wall to keep all the Mexicans out. The plot of "Machete Kills," the sequel, may be a bit too complex to recount in a few sentences, so at the risk of oversimplifying, I'll say that Mel Gibson plays Luther Voz, a maniac who plans on destroying the world and rebuilding society in space. Both films feature over-the-top violence, cartoonish amounts of gore, and some hilarious acting—even from Steven Seagal, who gets a marvelous death scene in the first film. Most critics loved the first "Machete" and panned the second one, but I found both movies to be almost equally stupid and equally enjoyable. The second movie ends on a cliffhanger, so I can only hope a third movie is in the works. Oh, and before I forget: the second movie also has some stand-out performances by Sofia Vergara (who sports hilariously improbable weaponry) and Lady Gaga, as a chameleonic assassin.

"The Expendables 3" runs in the same spirit as its two predecessors: it's a throwback to 1980s-era action, with clumsy dialogue, over-macho acting, and plenty of explosions. In a strange bit of studio decision-making, the movie was cut down so that it could receive a PG-13 rating, meaning that it was far less bloody than the two previous installments. This is a shame, and it was probably this punch-pulling that caused the movie to receive as much critical hate as it did. "The Expendables 3" has an overstuffed cast; replacing Bruce Willis with Harrison Ford doesn't change much of anything (there's a running joke about how Harrison Ford's character can't understand Jason Statham's character), and Antonio Banderas steals the show as a crazy soldier along the lines of Murdock from "The A-Team." All in all, I don't see why this movie was rated so much lower than its predecessors. Despite the move from "R" to "PG-13," there wasn't much of a drop in quality given that the quality was already at basement level.

All three movies were good, stupid, popcorn-eating fun. Not recommended if you're looking for something cerebral and profound, some meditation on life's mysteries, but perfect if you're in the mood for lots of creative death scenes.

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