This has gotten out of control. Grindhouse, a brutally larkish 2007 salute to the low-budget exploitation movies of the '60s and '70s, contained a mock trailer for a farcical action film starring Danny Trejo.
The joke became a reality in 2010 with Machete, as a surprisingly high-caliber cast (Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Don Johnson) supported Trejo as the title character, a ludicrously lethal and laconic government troublehacker.
Now director Robert Rodriguez, a principal in both those projects, serves up an even more elaborate and outlandish sequel, Machete Kills. (And there's another spin-off, Machete in Space, explicitly seeded in this film!)
Machete Kills is a film in which style sardonically routs substance, a cloying gag built around the iconic quality of Trejo's matchlessly craggy face, which resembles a plate of sundried corned beef.
Not that it matters, but the plot stems from the president (Charlie Sheen, credited here as Carlos Estevez) sending Machete on a mission after a Mexican revolutionary (Demian Bichir of The Bridge).
The ensemble once again is far, far more distinguished than the material deserves, with Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara, Antonio Banderas, Michelle Rodriguez, and even Lady Gaga camping it up. No one seems to enjoy the farce as much as Mel Gibson, who plays the Blofeld of the piece with manic glee.
Machete Kills is a giant, garish cheese ball of chase scenes, bad dialogue, and chintzy sound effects, along with more decapitations than you can swing a scythe at.
But it's disgraceful to marshal all those resources in service of a bad joke. At best, Machete Kills is a time saver. Usually one has to follow the New York Yankees through an entire season to see this much money and talent squandered.
Machete Kills *1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez. With Danny Trejo, Amber Heard, Mel Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, and Demian Bichir. Distributed by Open Road Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 47 mins.
Parent's guide: Violence, profanity, adult themes.
Showing at: area theaters.