If you are undecided on your preference towards drama or comedy, go see Instructions Not Included. It seems to be undecided as well.
Eugenio Derbez---a well-known Mexican actor---stars, directs and is a contributing writer to Instructions Not Included, one of the all-time highest grossing Spanish language films in the U.S. Instructions is a breakout success for its distributor, Pantelion (a partnership between Televisa and Lionsgate).
Acapulco’s resident playboy Valentín (Derbez), is presented with the child born from one of his many flings at his doorstep. The woman asks for money for a cab and never returns. So he goes off searching for her in the U.S., where she is from, to return the child. In the process, a bond is formed with his baby; he becomes a successful stuntman and remains in the U.S. Six years later, the mother shows up, her insufferable lawyer girlfriend in tow, intent on recuperating the child she left behind. A legal battle ensues, as in Kramer vs. Kramer. Up until then the story has pretty much been told in many other films, but this one has unexpected twists and turns that surprise and keep you interested.
Derbez’s slapstick humor and mugging for the camera is endearing, sometimes effective and ultimately a bit tiring as it goes along. Once the audience is introduced to Loreto Peralta---who plays Maggie, his daughter---you are hooked more on her charm and their connection rather than on the jokes, which often fall flat in either language. The switch from English to Spanish is seamless, however, and rarely was I aware of it.
But the improbable scenarios annoyed me, marred my pleasure and made the length of this movie a bit less bearable. About an hour in, it seems to change writers and the movie strives to be taken more seriously. All the twists and turns (and there are many) occur in the third act. About an hour and forty-five minutes in, they pull at your heartstrings hard and heavy and I dare you not to shed a tear and not leave the theater absolutely loving Instructions Not Included, paying no mind to the resentment that you may feel of being manipulated in such an overt way.
Anyone asked if he wanted to see Sophia Vergara doing pelvic thrusts in a black leather dominatrix garb would likely nod a shy yes to the proposition. Add that Vergara will be wearing a strap-on and you might lose the shy but gain the jaded.
This is the exact draw of Robert Rodriguez’s R rated diabolism: Vergara is exacting a homicidal and vicariously patricidal revenge, literally shooting from the hip ... and that’s just after the darts flying out of her bra fail to do the job. Rodriguez has never had a problem linking sex and death. But outside of a few Japanese films, we have not had orgasm and annihilation meet with such crass-less class.
Machete Kills is the second part to a potentially infinite series of films in which the venerable character actor and ultimate Chicano Danny Trejo plays an ex-federale who wants revenge of his own. Here’s the plot, as outrageous as it is: a multi-personality drug lord with a bomb linked with his ticker, linked to a nuke, ready to wipe out Washington D.C. But what we want and get from the Machete franchise are characters awash in cinematic reference, Tron jokes, or Batman gags. And the director does not fail.
There’s a lot of celeb notoriety too. In Machete we experienced Lindsay Lohan as a bogus, six-shooter wielding nun. This time around we get Lady Gaga stripping faces and keeping deadlines out of some style-savvy assassin’s work ethic. We get Charlie Sheen as the president of the U.S., and Mel Gibson as a planet splitting super genius.
Michelle Rodriguez reprises her angry eye patch role. And Amber Heard plays a Miss San Antonio lust interest who has to fight in heels. Every one of the actresses, from an all grown up Sky Kids star Alexa Vega to Vanessa Hudgens, are supposed to be really sexy. And in some still shots, maybe they are. But with the speed and slaughter and entrails, missing eyes, implosions, and fast martyrdom, I would question the audience that could actually be turned on by this spectacle. This is simply the most unexploitative exploitation around, and thank God it is.
Films like Machete and Hobo with a Shotgun, both off-shoots to 2007’s Tarantino/Rodriguez double bill Grindhouse, were an homage to drive-in shlock like Switchblade Sisters and and Blood Feast. Political as Machete was, and dour as Hobo with a Shotgun was, the films did not live up to the fake trailers that incited them.
Machette Kills, with its garden sword light sabers, its doll-like decapitations, and fake-looking sets, tries hard to make good on the Grindhouse promise of glee, gore, and a gnarly good time.