Give Robert Rodriguez credit for keeping the “Grindhouse” dream alive. His re-created exploitation-fest with Quentin Tarantino might not have lived up to all the hype several years back, but Rodriguez did make the stronger showing — and better still, he later turned that faux trailer for “Machete” into a legit feature. But wait, there’s more: craggy-faced Danny Trejo is back as the eponymous, hyperviolently vengeful Mexican tough guy in “Machete Kills.” Save for another trailer at the opening, though, it’s not the sort of obsessive stylistic throwback we’ve come to expect from this franchise. Instead, it’s more a conceptual throwback, to days when Roger Corman and other low-budget mavericks gleefully deemed any crazy idea worth tossing into a movie. Test screenings? Pshaw.
This time, Machete is enlisted to take down an unhinged Mexican revolutionary (Demian Bichir, TV’s “The Bridge”) by America’s f-bombing president (Charlie Sheen, getting into the Tex-Mex spirit by appearing under his given name, Carlos Estevez). Machete gets, um, thoroughly briefed by his government handler (Amber Heard), who happens to be undercover as a beauty pageant contestant. But she can’t prepare Machete for the discovery that the madman has the trigger for a nuclear missile wired to his heart.
The only way to defuse that baby is back across the border in the United States — but getting there isn’t easy when you’re being tailed by a lethal bordello madam (Sofia Vergara) and a chameleonic assassin (Lady Gaga, among others). Oh, and at the trail’s end: an aerospace-and-arms industrialist/psychic (Mel Gibson) with a literally out-of-this-world scheme even deadlier than that missile.
Some will miss the studied sleaze of the first installment, including the amusing, willfully oblivious way that sexagenarian, scarily inexpressive Trejo was treated as a super-stud. (His tumble with Miss San Antonio is fleeting fun.) But Rodriguez does a fair job of keeping the zaniness coming: Vergara’s machine gun bra, Gibson delivering exposition in a “Star Wars” prop, bad guys offed by helicopter blades in dementedly creative ways. It’s enough that you’ll hope Rodriguez makes good on that new faux trailer — for “Machete Kills Again . . . in Space.”