Machete Kills

October 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Danny Trejo, Demian Bechir, Mel Gibson
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Machete,” “Sin City”)
Written by: Kyle Ward (debut)

Despite being San Antonio-born and a champion of Texas filmmaking, director Robert Rodriguez’s work traditionally hasn’t done much to inspire local pride. While he seems like a swell guy to make movies with—based on some of the cool, eclectic casts he’s managed to put together—the end results range from mediocre to downright embarrassing. Even high points like “Sin City” and the original “Spy Kids” were undone by muddy plotting and crummy visuals. The low points, like all the rest of the “Spy Kids” films and “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl,” well…they’re completely awful.

Rodriguez, though, seems to have settled into a groove as of late, releasing the low-budget B-movie side of his personality that he’d tried to tamp down. The first trip down this road was “Machete,” famously spun into a feature after beginning life as a fake trailer. While not completely successful, the sense was Rodriguez was finally growing more comfortable in his own skin. In the sequel, “Machete Kills,” Rodriguez confirms he’s ready to finally embrace the fun of batshit insane cinema.

“Machete Kills” picks up with Danny Trejo’s badass ex-Federale Machete Cortez losing his partner/lover in a raid gone bad. A summons from the President of the Untied States (Charlie Sheen, going by his birth name Carlos Estevez) saves Machete from the clutches of a racist Arizona sheriff determined to to hang himself an illegal immigrant. Soon Machete is charged with stopping a Mexican madman (Demian Bichir, wonderfully nuts) with a missile pointed at Washington D.C. Along the way, Machete has a rendezvous with Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), tangles with a gun bra-wielding madame (Sofia Vergara), and is pursued by El Cameleon (Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas), finally culminating in a showdown with Mel Gibson’s villainous Voz.

While the original “Machete” struggled under the weight of cramming social commentary regarding immigration in with ridiculous action and gratuitous nudity, “Machete Kills” doesn’t waste time on any of that bullshit. Equal parts satire and parody, “Machete Kills” piles on the craziness with reckless abandon from the get-go, kicking things off with a grainy, scratchy trailer for a space-faring sequel to a film that isn’t even in pre-production. Despite a saggy middle section of the movie that makes it feel much longer than its 107 minutes, “Machete Kills” is arguably the best Robert Rodriguez movie yet. Until “Machete Kills Again…In Space” hits theaters, anyway.

The Stepfather

October 19, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley
Directed by: Nelson McCormick (“Prom Night”)
Written by: J.S. Cardone (“Prom Night”)

Director Nelson McCormick and screenwriter J.S. Cardone reunite for “The Stepfather,” another horror/thriller remake after their disastrous attempt last year with “Prom Night.” As an updated version of the movie from 1987, which starred Terry O’Quinn as the disturbed daddy, “The Stepfather” ends up being a predictable thriller aims for the typical genre tricks. Here, actor Dylan Walsh (TV’s “Nip/Tuck”) spends most of his time scowling and popping up from behind doors and in mirrors. Unless you think the world revolves around Amber Heard (she’s in a bikini for 99 percent of her screen time), avoid this one at all costs.

Never Back Down

March 3, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sean Faris, Djimon Hounsou, Amber Heard
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow (“Cry Wolf”)
Written by: Chris Hauty (“Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco”)

With the ever-growing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (if you don’t know who the Gracie family is this movie probably isn’t for you), it was only a matter of time before a feature film on the grueling sport found its way to the theater. It’s a disappointment, however, that “Never Back Down” is the one to start the trend.

Like a 21st century version of “The Karate Kid” (although it couldn’t hold its own against the likes of Danielson and Mr. Miyagi) mixed with the annoying aspects of something like “The O.C.” “Never Back Down” follows the story of a Jake Tyler (Faris), a high school kid who moves to Orlando with his family to start a new life only to be singled out by a bully (a la the Cobra Kai) whose only concern is to inflict physical pain on the new kid in town.

The bully in this instance is Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet), a popular kid at the local high school who’s also their best fighter. Ryan sets his sights on Jake after he learns that he has gotten into some trouble in the past for fighting at his old school.

Jake is no slouch. He’s a tough kid who takes a lot of the aggression he has built up after his father’s death out on whoever brings up the tragic events of his life. Still, Ryan is at a much higher level than him in terms of overall skill as Jake finds out when he is beaten down during a party he is invited to.

When Jake realizes the only way he is going to stop Ryan’s constant hounding is to fight him in a sanctioned match, he turns to Jean Roqua (Hounsou), the owner of a local gym, who knows a lot about what it takes to be a successful MMA brawler.

And so the story moves along in cliché form as Ryan wears his heart on his sleeve as he trains for a big underground match only a month away. All the while his mother and him bicker over petty things at home and his little brother (the only realistic character in the entire movie played by actor Wyatt Smith) plays tennis and looks up to his big bro, even if he’s always getting his face pounded.

Although Smith and two-time Academy Award nominee Hounsou are solid, everyone else with testosterone running through their bodies is about as believable as a storyline in professional wrestling. Are we to understand that somewhere on this planet there is a high school where every student is interested in mixed martial arts? Without a rational narrative we can only endure so much of the so-so fight scenes. The whole time, I was waiting for another iconic crane kick. Instead, “Never Back Down” taps out before the final round.