The presence of Charlie Sheen, playing a party-hearty American president named Rathcock, is the kind of late-night humor that almost sinks "Machete Kills," a sillier, cornier, slapstickier sequel to 2010's "Machete." There's more where that came from, too, with appearances by Mel Gibson and Lady Gaga. And when the movie's voice-over guy starts cracking jokes, you might think you've walked into a revival screening of "Airplane!"
Well, that wouldn't be the worst thing. "Machete Kills" has some of the zany energy of that 1980 comedy classic, even if it frequently stoops to "Scary Movie" shtick. It's saved by an enjoyably loopy script (from Kyle Ward), several surprisingly strong performances (not from Gaga, though) and the inventive direction of Robert Rodriguez, whose low-budget creativity is a performance in itself.
Danny Trejo returns as Machete, the unkillable vato whose grizzled face says many have tried. He's trying to locate a live nuclear device, but that premise is just an excuse for the filmmakers to introduce a half-dozen colorful (and mostly female) characters. Among them are the brothel owner Desdemona (Sofia Vergara, wearing a weaponized bra and panties), sweet Cereza (Vanessa Hudgens, not in on the joke), a pistol-packing pageant queen (Amber Heard) and the one-woman junta Luz (Michelle Rodriguez, always a pleasure). Antonio Banderas shows up as a hit-man struggling to learn basic Spanish.
Much of the fun comes from the director's trademark use of green screens, obvious miniatures and other cost-shaving but imaginative effects. There's a moment of genuine cinematic brilliance when Machete, signature weapon in hand, hooks himself to a helicopter blade and becomes a whirling guillotine. Because he's moving so fast, however, you don't actually see him. It's genius! Surely the lowest-budget special effect is the one that doesn't exist.
Ratcheting up the energy are Demián Bichir ("A Better Life"), wilding out as a drug lord with a split personality, and an unexpectedly good Gibson, playing international arms dealer Luther Voz. When Gibson shows up, cool and steely-eyed in an intergalactic outfit, "Machete Kills" nearly crackles like a classic Bond film, with a little "Pink Panther" thrown in. It's enough to get you excited for the planned sequel, "Machete Kills Again . . . In Space!"
PLOT The world's meanest Mexican tracks down an international arms dealer.
RATING R (strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual)
CAST Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demián Bichir, Sofia Vergara
BOTTOM LINE Sillier than the original, if that's possible, with goofier jokes and more stunt casting, though Gibson is darn good as a Bond-style villain.