Machete Kills ***

The violent, sexist silliness that is Robert Rodriguez’s Mexploitation action saga Machete, starring Danny Trejo as ex-Federale assassin Machete, is back with another equally violent, sexist, silly sequel. If you enjoyed the 2010 film, it’s much the same gleeful juvenile B-movie humour the second time around. In fact, according to Rodriguez, this film was not on the cards – nor the third (Machete Kills Again… In Space) whose trailer opens for this one to whet the appetite for more Machete mayhem.

Machete Kills goes bigger in plot and cast, distancing itself from The Network and the taco van of the first, with Machete being hired like some Mexican James Bond by a skirt-chasing President of the United States (no, not Clinton, but Charlie Sheen introduced as birth name Carlos Estevez) to save the planet – and meeting a Bond-like villain at the centre of it all (played by Mel Gibson). Thankfully, there are some hilarious über-camp star turns to keep things ticking nicely, even though Machete often gets sidelined in the process. Never fear, though, there are still some creative killing sprees and wicked blade upgrades, along with the growling Machete one-liners that don’t extend past ‘Machete don’t xxxx’. These alone continue to make the big Mexican an unlikely action hero icon.

The girls with their luscious locks and pouty petulance range from government agent Amber Heard to ‘Madame’ Alexa Vega and her posse of tooled-up working girls. Rodriguez sends up the typical B-movie female role a treat while giving his women characters a bizarre sense of post-feminism in their business acumen and independence, regardless of most dressing like vengeful, on-heat hussies. Jessica Alba and screen tough nut Michelle Rodriguez are present – just. However, it’s Lady Gaga’s debut feature role that ignites curiosity, perfectly written for her but a tad underused in this, along with the other faces that ‘share’ the role. Still, like a pop video, we are presented with Gaga snippets, like Rodriguez is testing the water with the pop diva’s ‘acting’.

The scene stealers that place Machete on the proverbial backseat include Sheen and Gibson who seem to think ‘what the hell, let’s just have some fun with this as how can it possibly harm our careers further?’ For such a decadent attitude, there is a mark of respect. This further heightens our enjoyment of both, however drawn-out Gibson’s part is at the end. Further credit goes to Demian Bichir as a kind of Statham-Crank/Downey-Jr-Iron Man figure, the demented, split-personality villain/mercenary Mendez. Bichir has a blast (literally) that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Still, without the stoic, pitted-faced Trejo nearby to reflect their lunacy off, it would be a bunch of panto dames at play.

Machete Kills is a deliberately controversial ‘cartoon’ of violence, sexism and gore with dubious CGI that knows it’s such and makes no apologies. ‘Machete don’t apologise’ so don’t expect anything else and just revel in the zaniness that throws political correctness to the wind then dices and splices it in its path.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Meet The Parents: Little Fockers – 3*

In-laws or ‘out-laws’, whatever you want to call them, are what make the silly season so interesting – and quite often volatile. So, releasing yet another in the Meet The Parents series seems like ideal pre-Christmas viewing, before spending enforced time with your own. We can all relate to the tight-lipped niceties and time-bomb tension, hence, Little Fockers, the third film in this 10-year saga, should tick all the boxes, right?

Well, to a certain extent, yes, but like an annoying relative who insists on repeating the same old, tired joke that dried up along with last year’s turkey, Little Fockers still (desperately) goes for laughs with its naughty-sounding surname gag. This time it’s taken to new Mafioso-heights with the promise of downtrodden son-in-law Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) becoming the ‘Godfocker’ (groan) of controlling patriarch Jack Byrnes’ (Robert De Niro) empire in his demise.

That’s really the plot, the whole plot, and nothing but the plot, give or take a few sub-plots and odd peppering of supporting actors – like a greasy-haired and tattooed Harvey Keitel as a brash foreman for starters (pray, why?). The attractive poster mix of A-Listers that includes De Niro, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo and Jessica Alba never really comes to the boil, and the child puke jokes and early penile discoveries feel as awkward as the actors having to dish them out for the hard-of-seeing.

The real stars of the second film, Hoffman and Streisand, are virtually frittered away, here, making sporadic appearances in this film, and coming in at the last minute to almost ‘save the day’ at the twins’ party. You could have forgiven their lacklustre usage, had the film-makers dared to be different with a promising role-reversal element to Focker and Byrnes at the start, with Focker getting a little power-crazed with his own young family, after getting the call from Byrnes that should change his family dynamic for life.

Sadly, director Paul Weitz and co. revert to two-dimensionality again, with new addition Alba being the worst culprit as incredibly perky and annoyingly enthusiastic drug rep Andi Garcia (another cringeworthy pun that has to be spelt out), but really not letting us get past the fact that it’s just near-naked Alba looking stunning again and showing off her trim figure. Well, at least that’s a thumbs-up for the boys, whilst the girls can all curse at reaching for that last mince pie.

That said, the reason for Little Fockers’ guaranteed interest at the box office is, like Christmas, we may tire of some of its elements, but it’s hard not to get into the spirit of it, in all its panto glory. This time of year is all about pulp-style films with frustratingly amicable characters like Alba as Garcia and Stiller as Focker. We love to watch a fool, especially a fool with flaws; it’s as much of a draw as picking at the leftover turkey. It still brings a smile to the face and a few chuckles, and we know it’s wrong to continue contributing financially to it – especially with the unashamedly obvious hint of a fourth film at the end – but we just can’t help ourselves.

Therefore, Little Fockers offers nothing new, just a bunch of nostalgic old/rehashed that, if being completely honest, isn’t really offensive pre-Christmas viewing, and it may get you through out-law nightmares with a secret smile on the big day.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

Machete – 2*

There’s been an eager wait by fans for this film’s release, since it’s ‘fake’ trailer featured in Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse that starred its charismatic and craggy-faced lead, Danny Trejo, back in 2007. Now Machete in full form has finally arrived, having been conceived years before the former, and Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis’ latest Latino laud certainly does what the directors say; gives us a true Mexican hero (or three).

But there’s also an overwhelming sense of déjà vu as the same old format from the likes of Desperado is peddled out yet again, accumulating in the ultimate claret wipeout at the end. Even Trejo stays true to his previous character’s style, wearing his blade-carrying leather waistcoat over his muscular, tanned and tattooed skin as Machete, a legendary ex-Federale who’s framed and out for revenge for his brotherhood. It’s also hard to say if Rodriguez and Maniquis meant their film to be a pastiche as it pokes fun at times then takes itself too seriously at others.

That said Machete is like witnessing a hormonal juggernaut of seething resentment aimed at the usual suspect: the big bad USA – and we have to say, the whole border issue is getting a tad tired in such films when there are bigger socio-political, drug-related issues now affecting the region that could have made a better plot.

But this is not Traffic, and in the directors’ defence, what they deliver is the revolutionary, comic-book-style fantasy of putting wrongs to rights: It’s what Rodriguez’s films are all about; guns, gadgets, fire power, beautiful Latinas, religious symbolism and the token drug lord. So, if this is your bag, you’ll certainly not be disappointed with this latest bloodbath set on the Mexican border with Texas. And any excused to bash the evil workings of the US of A seems to get the audience on side in a heartbeat. These factors are the key draw of Rodriguez’s films, along with passionate-cum-deadly panto characters to love or hate.

What’s also in Machete’s favour is a highly impressive cast to help its box office case in Robert De Niro as ruthless and slippery Senator John McLaughlin, Jessica Alba as stunning immigrations officer Sartana Rivera, Steven Seagal as Mexican drug kingpin Torrez, Michelle Rodriguez as (yet another) hard-nut revolutionary called Luz, Jeff Fahey as ruthless businessman Booth, Cheech Marin as gun-wielding Padre Cortez, and Don Johnson as twisted border vigilante Von Jackson. Oh, and Lindsay Lohan plays Booth’s floozy daughter, turned vengeful nun – a thrilling addition to the line-up. Each character brings their own tour de force to the film, with some stylish framing in parts. However, this is also Machete’s dilemma, as it feels unevenly paced and bitty at times, as though the directors have got a bit carried away in trying to impress us with the characters, to the detriment of any intriguing plot.

Trejo needs no coaching in how to play bad effortlessly, having spent some of his life in jail for violence. What’s good to see this time is genuine warmth to his latest character that Trejo expertly projects in few words. Machete the anti-hero is the ultimate dichotomy, both trustworthy and untrustworthy, gentle and violent etc. Trejo has the ominous screen presence to pull it off; complete with a fascinating face you could spend hours navigating.

Fahey is surprisingly good as the villain of the piece, even upstaging the likes of De Niro and Seagal (the latter making little impact, to be honest). Johnson makes an astonishing transformation as the bigoted Von Jackson, possibly finding a new ‘bad guy’ niche in his career? Indeed this film is all about praising the B-movie Edam in large gooey dollops, and nothing should be taken too literally. What is controversial is some of the violence against women, like the shooting of a pregnant woman on the border, or Booth’s unhealthy interest in his daughter that some may take umbrage to, regressing the progress made in female film portrayal. Nevertheless, the fighting women in the film (Sartana and Luz) give as good as they get, so there is some sort of off-set at least.

Machete is a distinctive Rodriguez’s trademark, albeit not as imaginative as first expected, but entertaining all the same, with a cast worth watching. It does suffer from two-dimensionality and stereotypical clangers that could have been avoided with a little more thought, but it definitely bangs the controversial gong with its glorified violence and one scene with a hospital escape via human intestines. There are also some lines crimes against film-making that depending on your mood, will have you viewing co-writer Rodriguez as a jest genius or a parody pariah. Should Machete have stayed as an iconic Grindhouse trailer? Only Rodriguez fans can really judge, or really care. The rest of the audience will enjoy the big-name stars hamming it up in style.

2/5 stars

By L G-K