Machete Kills

When Weird Al was doing the promotional rounds recently for his album Mandatory Fun he talked a lot about how careful he is when he's working on his parodies. He isn't just careful about the legal stuff - getting the proper permissions and whatnot; of course he's diligent about stuff like that - but he's really devoted to the little technical stuff. Apparently his notebooks are full of alternate versions of every line he writes, and his band goes to great trouble to recreate the exact texture of the songs they cover. But that attention to detail pays off: a lot of his parodies have outlived the original songs they were based on. 

Robert Rodriguez could stand to learn a little from Weird Al. His film Machete Kills is supposed to be an homage to / parody of old school exploitation movies, but the details are all wrong. Those movies always felt handmade (often a little too handmade) but when people get shot in Machete Kills the blood is clearly the kind of overdone CGI splatter that always feels excessive and all the special effects are obviously green screened. The film doesn't feel like a throwback to a different era of cheapo action movies, it feels more like a brother to the Sharknados of the world. I get why you'd want to make a movie that harkened back to a bygone time, but who needs more Sharknados?

It might sound odd, but this film's basic problem is that it has the wrong kind of cheapness. When Roriguez first started making films they obviously looked like they were made on a budget; his debut El Mariachi has a scruffiness to it, but it was an ambitious scruffiness. You could feel the passion of the movie and it pushed you to forgive the film's rougher aspects. In contrast, Machete Kills was made for a much bigger budget and looks far worse - and even more galling obviously looks bad on purpose. This is a guy who made Sin City - he clearly knows how to use green screen in ways that are striking, so the film's incompetent look is clearly a stylistic choice. But it's a stylistic choice that feels condescending. He worked hard to make this look bad, and that's not a compliment to the people who did their best to make their cheesy movies look not-so-cheesy back in the day.

The other lesson that Rodriguez could really learn from Weird Al is to pick your targets. Even though Weird Al is mostly known for parodies of other people's songs, he still has a unique identity as a performer. He does that through good taste: he picks the right songs and then his take on the material is generally unique to him. In contrast, Rodriguez has picked source material that's fairly picked over and then he doesn't have much to say about it that you haven't seen already. The hot women with gun-bras is straight out of Austin Powers and the random Star Wars references are straight out of a million Youtube videos. The little touches wouldn't seem like they would be all important to such broad satires, but ultimately they're the difference between something successful like Mandatory Fun and something that's no fun at all.

Winner: The Cat

Machete Kills on IMDB