With a tantalizing cast and tongue firmly in cheek, director Robert Rodriguez becomes the Woody Allen of Mexploitation films with Machete Kills.
It's a title the San Antonio-born director gladly owns in a genre he singularly revived and refined. It doesn't hurt that actor Danny Trejo's Machete character is a note-perfect badass — a retro combination of James Bond and comic book vato loco.
Heads do roll with impunity.
“My goal is to be entertaining. I want people to really enjoy themselves,” Rodriguez said. “Usually the comment is, 'Wow! I enjoyed that a lot more than I thought I would.' And that's good.”
Machete, whose attitude can be traced to Efrain Gutierrez's '70s West Side outlaws, has come a long way since the fake movie trailer in Grindhouse.
“I thought that was going to be it,” Rodriguez said.
Instead, the sequel to Machete opens Friday with a cast that includes Oscar winners, Hollywood outcasts and Lady Gaga. The action franchise is less about honing Machete than it is following the weathered action hero wherever he wants to go.
“They'd never seen that kind of Hispanic action hero, an iconic character like that, a 'Mexploitation movie,'” Rodriguez said on the phone from Austin, where he lives and works. “It seemed to make so much sense. Audiences couldn't believe it. They'd never seen it before. No one had ever thought to do one.”
Machete's popularity was a surprise. The sequel, along with its main character, took on a life of its own.
“People started asking for a sequel. It was never really preplanned,” Rodriguez said. “It seems like Machete himself dictates more to me than I do to him these days.”
So does the fun, which Rodriguez likened to the old Rambo films starring Sylvester Stallone — which began smaller in scope.
“In First Blood, he was like a drifter who they underestimated, and it turns out he's a highly trained Green Beret,” he said. “The second one, which Jim Cameron wrote, was called Rambo: First Blood Part 2. By that time, he's working for the government and it's a much bigger movie.”
Still, ambitious and over-the-top as it is, Machete Kills was made in 29 days with a loose script (“In case nobody has any new ideas,” the director said) and without a storyboard. It's Rodriguez's fastest shoot since El Mariachi, his 1992 debut.
This time, Machete is working for the president of the United States, “and he's saving the world.”
Besides Trejo, Machete Kills stars familiar faces Jessica Alba, Tom Savini, Alexa Vega and Michelle Rodriguez, and fresh blood Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Sofia Vergara, Demián Bichir, Antonio Banderas, Zoe Saldana, Vanessa Hudgens, Amber Heard, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Rodriguez's sister, singer-songwriter Patricia Vonne.
Rodriguez said he cast the film simply as a fan of the various actors. They are enticed, he said, by the fact that he's an independent filmmaker with his own studio, Troublemaker Studios in Austin, and lots of creative freedom.
“They really love that kind of freedom, getting to come play,” he said. “I'll cater the role to them once they're cast. I'll expand the character.”
That meant tapping more into Sheen and Gibson's “artistry” than their off-camera image, working with Lady Gaga's sense of the outrageous and giving Vergara an arsenal of sex toy-inspired high-tech weapons.
“The Gaga character just grew and grew,” he said. “She wanted to come play and be iconic and memorable. So I kept upping the ante and making it worth her while. I do that across the board for everybody.”
Sheen — a natural as a bad-boy president — and Rodriguez have known each other for years. The director described himself as a “huge fan” of Gibson.
“They know I go to them out of respect for them as an artist, not chasing the tabloids,” he said. “That stuff comes and goes. They've always been great and always will be,
Machete is filled with shootouts, chase scenes, explosions, unlikely escapes, bloody (if cartoonish) gore, sexual titillation and laughs. If it's a success, what comes next? The answer makes Rodriguez chuckle.
The new movie opens and closes with a trailer for Machete Kills Again ... in Space. Jose Jimenez, comedian Bill Dana's bumbling Space Age creation, couldn't have imagined it.
“The character kind of goes wherever he wants, and he boldly wanted to go into space,” Rodriguez said. “It doesn't seem there's ever any Hispanics that go into space, and we wanted to change that. I'm pretty sure the audience wants us to go there. We may have to.”
©2013 the San Antonio Express-News
Visit the San Antonio Express-News at www.mysanantonio.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services