– Summary –
Director : Robert Rodriguez & Ethan Maniquez.
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, Robert DeNiro, Don Johnson, Shea Wigham, Daryl Sabara, Tom Savini.
Approx Running Time : 105 Minutes
Synopsis: A former Mexican Federale known as Machete takes on a corrupt US Senator, a Mexican druglord, and a renegade border patrolman to protect the lives of the Mexican’s illegally trying to cross the US border. Just saying that sounds wrong.
What we think : This film is all kinds of wrong, and should be abhorred by all free-thinking people across the world as a base, reprehensible exercise in wanton violence and immorality. Ahh, screw it. There’s no point trying to defend the indefensible. This film is hilarious, a terrific entertainment in the grandest pulp traditions borne of the 70’s schlock B-movie – as much a Grindhouse film as Planet Terror or Death Proof, and finally a ballsy, macho effort to stand alongside the work Sly Stallone’s currently putting out. Machete is adult, graphic and completely what “they” would tell you not to watch. Sod ’em. Watch it.
Oh damn, I think I’ve fallen in love with a man again. Er. I mean, I think I’ve found a reason to appreciate the fine, fine work of Robert Rodriguez again… ahem. Apologies to my wife. I’m not sure how to dig myself out of this hole, but if I can extrapolate the motivation for my effusive praise of Rodriguez’ latest cinematic effort into a form of justification, then this, your honor, is my defense. Machete, a film originally created as a fake-trailer for the Rodriguez/Tarantino film project known as Grindhouse, is a fully fledged feature made real thanks to the clamoring of fans across the globe – finally, the amazingly wooden Danny Trejo gets his leading role. Trejo, best known as the silent, mustachioed henchman from a hundred B-movies, with a face seemingly carved from the back end of a Mack truck, isn’t exactly a household name as much as he’s known for his grizzled appearance, and Rodriguez’ lightning-bolt casting of the former hard-time prisoner as his machete-wielding leading man is a stroke of genius.
When the world saw the fake movie trailers at the beginning of the Grindhouse duo helmed by Rodriguez and co-villain Quentin Tarantino, the one garnering the most “oh hell you have to make that into a film!” from audiences was the one featuring Danny Trejo as a vengeful Mexican ex-Federale, Machete. Filmed in the pulp, Grindhouse style with bloody kills, gratuitous sex and a seriously sexy attitude, Rodriguez decided to ante up on his previous success by delivering a film everybody wanted to see. Finally, a leading role suiting Trejo down to the ground. Finally, Trejo steps into the spotlight. And delivers. This isn’t a serious film, not by any stretch. It’s a cartoonish, vacant, shallow, visceral thunderbolt of a film, a film which removes its audience from the grip of societal constraints by exposing them to a film-making style long since dormant in Hollywood. It’s the equivalent of every B-movie cliche being tossed into a blender, pureed to a fine paste and lathered across your eyeballs with the dexterity and scrotum-punching attitude only Rodriguez can muster. Bodies and blood fly through the air like graceful ballet dancers in a horrifying crash-dance of violence, bullets and guns appear at a whim and law and order seem distant memories, as Mexico and the USA finally go to war.
So ya want the story, gringo? The plot, such as it is, is a convoluted mess, but that’s entirely the point. Machete, a Mexican Federal Agent whose wife and daughter are slaughtered by the brutal drug kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal, actually looking like he gives a crap about this film), winds up unemployed in Texas, before he’s hired to assassinate a state Senator (Robert DeNiro) by a ruthless businessman, Booth (Jeff Fahey) who is also running the political campaign to bring to a head the immigration problems between the States and Mexico. Double crossed, Machete finds himself on the run from both John Law and the Senator, Booth and Torrez, all of whom are in league with a plan even bigger than Machete could realize. Helping Machete is resistance leader Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), Immigrations Officer Rivera (Jessica Alba) and Machete’s brother, Padre (Cheech Marin), as well as an underground movement of Mexican loyalists known as Network. The Senator, meanwhile, has enlisted the aide of a renegade border protection group, a bunch of yahoos who seek out illegal immigrants and shoot them down for sport as they try and cross the border. This group is led by a man known as Von Jackson (Don Johnson, appearing in a major film for the first time since 1996’s Costner vehicle Tin Cup), a vulture of a man who has his own agenda for keeping America…well, American. The scene if set for a bloody, violent showdown.
Ahh, where to begin. First, I wish to go on record as applauding the effort of Robert Rodriguez here – he’s taken a hard-to-reproduce genre entry from the 70’s and 80’s, and injected it with adrenaline up to its armpits. Machete is a muscular, sexually promiscuous film filled with everything the target male audience could want. Hot women , guns, dismemberments and some spectacular stunt casting; Machete is a whirlwind of cornball and cliche wrapped in the glossy, hi-energy sheen Rodriguez is famous for. Yep, it’s the ultimate big-budget small-budget indie film we’ve been waiting for. Rodriguez’s ability to attract the big names to his projects, much like Tarantino seems to enjoy foisting upon us, is first rate, and once more he’s derived great pleasure from putting familiar faces in role we’re perhaps not ready to accept – the casting of Lindsay Lohan as the promiscuous, drug-addled daughter of central antagonist Jeff Fahey is as close to art-meets-life as this film gets, though thankfully the irony of it is never lost amongst the slattern-speak. Lohan even gets much of her gear off through the film, a career move perhaps not the surprise Rodriguez hoped it would be, although I will admit, it is brave of her to brush of the comfort of Disney’s warm embrace in such a mainstream flick as this one.
Jeff Fahey reprises his role from the original trailer as the films central antagonist – or at least the one we spend most of our time with; Steven Seagal and Don Johnson both play accomplice villains, and although their respective roles may be minor, their impact is substantial in the context of this story. Seagal looks like he wanted to be in this film, there’s a devilish glint in his eye since he knows he’s the Bad Guy, and he plays his part for all its creepy, malevolent worth. One hopes he’ll recant his decision not to appear in the next Expendables movie off the back of this one. Johnson, as I mentioned returning to the big screen mainstream for the first time in almost twenty years, is almost unrecognizable in the role as the tobacco-chewin’ Texas Ranger (of sorts), but he also delivers his dreadfully contrived dialogue with the forcefulness and truth required to sell it in this film. Jessica Alba rightfully won a Razzie for her work in this film, as the flip-flopping ICE Agent who takes up with Machete’s cause when the law and what’s right don’t meet in the middle. Her dialogue is also dreadful, but unlike the rest of the cast, who seem to all be in on the joke, Alba seems the least able (or willing?) to provide the conviction it needs to work as a character – it’s okay to be wooden in this film, but you need to have that little wink to the audience that tells them that’s the way it’s meant to be, not that you’re struggling to cope with the nuances of this splatter-fest genre. Of all the major names in the film, Alba’s perhaps the weakest.
Robert DeNiro provides plenty of laughs as the State Senator John McLaughlin, although not the laughs associated with his recent career-suicide fart in the Fockers franchise, or the Analyse This and That films. DeNiro’s screen persona’s taken a battering in recent decades, his tough-guy roles of the 70’s and 80’s long since past – and with this film, he goes some way to restoring audience favor to his cause. Here, while he’s essentially the films main source of bumbling comedic relief, it’s not the kind of humor that negates this once great actor, but builds him up – it’s a true humor, a humor derived from clever scripting of his character, and a taciturn portrayal of a man out of control of his own destiny but doesn’t know it. DeNiro is clever enough to get the joke, and if he gets it, then so do we. Michelle Rodriguez provides sex appeal in the form of Juz (pronounced “juice” by the on-screen cast) and hefts those weapons with the surety of an actress who’s done her fair share of boys-own films – she’s sexy as hell here, perhaps even moreso than leading lady Alba, which in itself is no small feat. Rodriguez alum Cheech Marin has his five minutes of fame in an extended cameo as Machete’s brother Padre, although he’s given short thrift in the comedic department – a bizarre oversight from Rodriguez, who’s normally got that aspect pegged.
Of course, Machete would be nothing if not for the “acting” ability of one Danny Trejo, and his awesome, awesome face. This film is structured around Trejo’s face, and the fact it looks like a bashed crab. Trejo reeks of f*ck-you-up attitude, and Rodriguez capitalizes on that at every possible opportunity. The fact that Machete sleeps with all (and I mean all) the gorgeous women in the film at one point or another is only one of Trejo’s perks in this film – I mean, c’mon, there’s no way he’d get to bang babes like this in real life, right? As Machete, he oozes cool, smoulders with that subtle, Mexican sensuality, and goes all James Bond on the womenfolk: of course, don’t all women want to be screwed by a battle-hardened pig-dog at the first available opportunity? It’s a guys fantasy, okay. And Machete delivers. Machete also doesn’t text. Trejo, inhabiting the body of Danny Trejo, performs his way through Machete with the thespian talent of a Panzer tank; his dialogue consists of grunts and manly sneering, interspersed with some clunky one-liners that’d make Arnie wince, as well as delivering some bone-crunching fight sequences with aplomb. After watching this, it’s hard to believe Trejo is pushing 70 as I write this! Amazing.
The story itself exists merely to prop up the admittedly flimsy characters and get them into position for the inevitable showdowns. No doubt Rodriguez felt he had to cram every shot from the original fake-trailer into this film somehow, but it’s the execution of getting those shots into the film within the context of the story that is simply astonishing. The shot with Machete getting all sexy with the two women in the pool? Check. The mini-gun strapped to the front handlebars of a monster motorcycle? Check. The padre blowing some poor dude head off with a shotgun? Check. And none of it feels forced, by which I mean it doesn’t feel like Machete’s simply getting from point A to point B without ant form of logic at all – Machete has it’s own logic, and I’ll be damned if I can figure out exactly what it should be. Characters are fairly limited in their emotional depth here, with the possible exception of…. nah, none of them are anything but cardboard cut-out cliches, to be honest. The script is filled with cool one-liners and iffy one-note roles, and plenty of opportunity for gratuitous, and I do mean gratuitous, violence.
I’ve gone a fair way into this review without mentioning the most obvious person I’ve overlooked – fellow director Ethan Maniquez. Now, I’m not sure which bits of this film Rodriguez took control of, and which bits belong to Maniquez, but the fact that it’s hard to tell indicates just how well these two meshed together on the project. Maniquez has been a long time editor on Rodriguez’s films, apparently, so I guess one could postulate that he’s spent a fair amount of time analyzing Rodriguez’s style and simply emulated it as he went along. Whichever bits they worked on, or if indeed they worked together on every scene, Machete has the hallmarks of Rodriguez’s guiding hand all over this puppy, and it’s a corker regardless. Also worth a mention is the score/music by Chingon, Rodriguez’ band, who do an admirable job providing an evocative, suitably macho and elegantly bombastic soundtrack to this film. Machete is a vivid film, a stylish embarkation of distressed color and junkyard editing, the fleeting camera-zooms and crash-edits merely adding to the zippidy-do-dah honkey-tonk eloquence Rodriguez and his cast enable this film to maintain. The opening sequence, presented in the Grindhouse style, with sound synch issues, streaks and blemishes on the “print”, as well as a hyperkinetic color timing and bloody sensuality, ensure Machete rips into your jugular with a bang (if ripping can have a “bang” as a sound effect!).
Machete’s macho symbolism and gutter-chum amplitude are a genuine delight to enjoy; the film is a pulp grindhouse entry in the same vein as Planet Terror. Come to think of it, if Rodriguez wanted to make more films with this grindhouse style he’s more than welcome to, in my humble opinion. Both Planet Terror and Machete are fabulous throwback-issue cinematic gems, both of which can be enjoyed equally. If you don’t enjoy or appreciate the genre bending style of Planet Terror, then it’s highly probably that Machete won’t float your boat either. If you enjoy a good quality, violently funny, sexy action film with guns and tits, then Machete is gonna be right up your alley. Just remember: Machete don’t text.