- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Jason Newman
n the first ten minutes of Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis's "Machete," I counted the following: at least a dozen murders (three of which by decapitation), the use of a gun with a man's amputated hand still attached, gratuitous nudity, an exploding house, and a cell phone being pulled out of a female body part that normally doesn't get service. In other words, it's Rodriguez's most fun film since his 1992 debut, "El Mariachi."
Danny Trejo, who finally gets a leading role after playing Badass #1 in 183 consecutive films, is the titular character, a former Federale whose wife and daughter are killed by evil drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal, making up for his disappearance in "The Expendables"). Three years later, Machete, now a day laborer on the U.S.-Mexico border, is hired by shady businessman Michael Benz (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), a rabid anti-immigration politician and xenophobe with a predilection for personally shooting Mexicans attempting to cross the border… on tape (that could never backfire, right?) See, Benz's business thrives on illegal aliens and if McLaughlin were to win re-election, he may be out of business.
To give away any more of the admittedly ridiculous plot would be cruel. Let's just say there are enough set-ups, double crosses, and conspiracies to continually confound, even if all you want to do is watch Danny Trejo be Danny Trejo. Lots of people want Machete dead, but since he is, as one henchman puts it, "The CIA, FBI and DEA all rolled into a fuckin' burrito," they will not succeed, even when he never touches a gun throughout the film.
Reminiscent of classic exploitation films, Rodriguez peppers the supporting roles with obvious stereotypical characters. Fahey, known for such recent classics as, uh, “Manticore” and “Maniacts” delivers lines like "I'm good at making martyrs" with a perfect raspy, hushed tone. Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba display equal parts feminine charm and masculine ruggedness as a freedom fighter and immigration agent, respectively. And somehow, Robert Rodriguez was able to get Lindsay Lohan to play a drugged-out, ditzy loose woman. Acting!
Originally shot as a fake trailer to Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's 2007 film, "Grindhouse," "Machete" was initially written in 1993 with Trejo in mind after casting him in "Desperado." It makes sense. This is the film I was hoping to see after "El Mariachi" instead of "Desperado": equal in spirit to "Mariachi" but with a bigger bankroll (though at 106 minutes, it overstays its welcome by about 15-20 minutes). Where Antonio Banderas brooded and sulked throughout "Desperado," imbuing the movie with a self-seriousness reserved for historical dramas and romantic tearjerkers, Trejo is Bullz-Eye personified; a walking testosterone shot whose 1,000-yard stare conveys more than any of his minimal lines.
There is a serious point to be made about immigration in the film’s subtext. When a sign at a McLaughlin rally showed a picture of Uncle Sam with the words, "I Want You…to Speak English," the natural reaction is to laugh at the absurdity; yet it's a not-too-distorted mirror to the current American landscape (at one point, McLaughlin calls Mexicans, and by extension any foreigner, crossing into U.S. land illegally an "overt act of terrorism.") But it almost feels like an ancillary layer to the film. A propos of his "Spy Kids" franchise, Rodriguez's main goal seems to be turning "Machete" into his own personal video game (hint to EA); a place where all the infantry soldiers are interchangeable and are just slight distractions to get to the main bosses. (That's not a bad thing.)
Like last year's "Black Dynamite," "Machete" deftly walks the border between self-aware parody and legitimate exploitation entry. Sometimes you want a movie that will affect you on a deep, emotional or intellectual level. And sometimes, you just need to see Danny Trejo escape assassins by ripping a man's large intestine out of his body and using it to rappel down a building. "The Expendables" may have gotten all the action stars, but "Machete" got the smarter, skillful director who's clearly in love with filmmaking. Guess which one to see first?
Two-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Fox really dropped the ball on this one. Apart from 10 minutes of deleted scenes (including an entire subplot involving the twin sister of Jessica Alba’s character), the only other extras you’ll find is an audience reaction track and a digital copy. We know the movie was shot on a low budget, but surely they could have done better than this.