While it's not as thematically rich as the brilliant immigration parody "Machete" -- my No. 1 movie of 2010 -- "Machete Kills" still delivers a lot of laughs and is worth seeing if you're a fan of the franchise.
This sequel is a nice mix of old and new gags. It's cool to see Machete, even in his advanced years, still find creative uses for an opponent's intestines. We learn more things that "Machete don't do ..." besides texting. And the serious-faced Danny Trejo gets to hold his classic stern look through yet another sexual encounter that almost seems like an inconvenience for Machete. In fact, he has the same expression while being attended to by Amber Heard as he does when being hanged by William Sadler (his neck is too thick to snap).
The plot finds Machete and ICE agent Jessica Alba trying to break up a U.S.-military-to-Mexican-cartels gun-running plot in the opening sequence. The connection to real-world events gets decidedly thinner after that, as if director Robert Rodriguez and screenwriter Kyle Ward didn't want to get too political. That's kind of a shame, because the first movie handled politics very well, and in place of the politics is a lot of silliness.
Granted, the silliness often connects, including a running "Mission: Impossible" parody where The Chameleon changes into wildly different looking actors and actresses ranging from Cuba Gooding Jr. to Lady Gaga. Everyone has a lot of fun in their roles. Probably the most extreme is Sofia Vergara, who oversees a brothel full of trained killers, including Alexa Vega and Vanessa Hudgens. It's also quite humorous to see Demian Bichir, such an amazing actor on "The Bridge," ham it up as a schizophrenic Mexican freedom fighter. It seems almost everyone who has worked with Rodriguez before -- and many who haven't -- wants to be in this series.
But other jokes fall flat, including villain Mel Gibson riding around in a landspeeder and carbon-freezing one of his enemies. "Star Wars" references stopped being clever a decade ago. Yet at the same time, those gags seem too modern. This franchise works best when we can imagine the films came out in the 1970s grindhouse era. Indeed, I wish the print was "roughed up" a little more like the 2005 movie "Grindhouse," but both "Machete" films have gotten away from that.
Criticisms aside, the trilogy-capper "Machete Kills Again ... In Space" could be a blast. I love the image of Machete boarding a shuttle in a space suit with the big helmet under his arm. But I hope the three-quel expands enough beyond the space scenes that both kick off and conclude "Machete Kills." I can already picture Machete decapitating bad guys in space ... but I'd also like to be surprised.