'Machete Kills,' Robert Rodriguez's follow-up to 2010's 'Machete,' ditches the grindhouse aesthetic and homage, and instead tries to emulate a late-'80s, early-'90s action flick -- basically, Rodriguez made the kind of movie he often makes. The result is an uninspired, joyless and oft-trashy exercise in self-indulgence. Rodriguez has spent his career making films the way he wants in his own backyard, and while you kind of have to admire the audacity of it all, the intent is questionable at best.

In 'Machete Kills,' Danny Trejo's Machete character (originated in the fake trailer Rodriguez made for 'Grindhouse') is called upon by the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen, credited here with his birth name, Carlos Estevez) to infiltrate a cartel in Mexico led by a former revolutionary who's gone berserk. That revolutionary, played with cartoonish revelry by Demian Bichir, is in cahoots with a wacky visionary arms dealer named Voz, played by Mel Gibson. Voz has installed sociopathic leaders in North Korea, Russia and Mexico, and holds the key to starting a new world war. His plan is to take a bunch of rich white people up to space where they can start anew while the world tears itself apart, and it's up to Machete to bring the entire operation down.

Machete spends the bulk of the film on the run with Bichir's Mendez, who has a self-inflicted bounty on his head as a fail-safe of sorts -- it's all unnecessarily convoluted. Among the people after Mendez and Machete are Walton Goggins as a bounty hunter who can change his face -- and does, to Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas and Lady Gaga, of all people -- and Sofia Vergara, a man-hating brothel madam who pursues the duo with a cavalry of scantily clad gunslingers.

The most glaring issue with 'Machete Kills' is that, unlike 'Machete,' it's not paying homage to grindhouse films. 'Machete' functioned well as a short faux-trailer gimmick, but expanded to a 90-minute feature, the gimmick wore thin pretty fast. 'Machete Kills' isn't interested in honoring or satirizing anything. With a poorly written script, hammy acting, and terrible CG effects better suited for a Syfy TV movie, 'Machete Kills' feels like a movie that's intentionally bad, which again, would seem more at home on the Syfy channel. It's built for an audience to laugh at and not with, and you have to question Rodriguez's intent -- who sets out to make a bad movie on purpose, and to what end?

Also problematic are the female characters, portrayed here with all the female empowerment of a juvenile male fantasy. The women use their sexuality to get what they want, from Amber Heard's Miss San Antonio pageant queen to Vergara's seedy madam. Even Vergara's weapons are designed to exploit her body, with a brassiere that features nipple-shaped guns and a "strap-on" crotch piece that features a phallic gun (a revival of Tom Savini's crotch-gun piece in 'From Dusk Till Dawn'). Vergara gives an expository speech, explaining how her father used to molest her until she ate his testicles -- she went to school the next day with pieces of him still in her braces.

It's a horrific, crass monologue that shows little understanding of its own purpose, like an adolescent boy playing with grown-up ideas he can't possibly comprehend ... an analogy that works well for the whole film, actually. 'Machete Kills' is nothing more than little boys playing with action figures and filming the whole thing, and while that idea could be novel or even inventive in the right hands, it's more in keeping with Michael Bay's school of directing. Rodriguez has often made movies that would seem more at home in the early '90s, but here he exploits his own filmmaking and makes an intentionally bad '90s flick; he's just cannibalizing himself at this point. And there's something incredibly obnoxious about referencing your own work, when that previous work isn't very good.


'Machete Kills' will be released in theaters October 11.

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