Danny Trejo - Machete
Robert De Niro - Senator McLaughlin
Jessica Alba - Sartana
Steven Seagal - Torrez
Michelle Rodriguez - Luz
Jeff Fahey - Booth
Cheech Marin - Padre Benito Del Toro
Don Johnson - Lt. Stillman
Shea Whigham - Sniper
Lindsay Lohan - April
Genre - Action/Exploitation
Running Time - 105 Minutes
In 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino [among other filmmakers] came together for GRINDHOUSE, a three-hour tribute to "grindhouse" cinema of the 1970s. Creating a solid double feature in PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF, the experience was fantastic. Unfortunately, the mainstream audience wasn't sold on this idea and GRINDHOUSE did poorly at the box office, only finding its true cult audience with the home video market. Sandwiching the two films were a bunch of faux-trailers to complete the grindhouse experience. One of these trailers was for a film called MACHETE, a character played by Danny Trejo in all three SPY KIDS films. It was shot exploitation style, with classic narration that stated that "They've fucked with the wrong Mexican!" The trailer was a hit - so much in fact that MACHETE was actually made into a real full-length film.
Three years later, MACHETE was finally released to pretty decent success at the box office. Surprising since it's an exploitation film through and through - a genre not really appreciated by the mainstream audience. But with the co-direction of Robert Rodriguez and the diversity of stars that jumped on board, there was no doubt people were going to get curious about MACHETE.
The real question is whether the actual film matches up to the hype of the trailer? Well while I think the trailer is brilliant and the film doesn't completely live up to it, MACHETE is still a solid film that probably should've been made in this modern era of cinema. Yet it's here, and I'm very happy that it was made because MACHETE is an entertaining movie from start to finish.
Machete (Danny Trejo) is an ex-Federale whose wife and daughter are slain by an evil drug lord named Torrez (Steven Seagal). Years later and trying to pick up the pieces of his life, Machete is picking up jobs to make ends meet, including one near a taco stand run by Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) - who is in charge of The Network, which helps immigrants get jobs. One day, Machete is hired by Booth (Jeff Fahey), who wants him to assassinate Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), a man who is anti-immigration and is losing in the polls for the next election. Machete takes the job, but realizes he's nothing but a mark in a set-up as Machete is double-crossed and is blamed for the attempted hit [which boosts McLaughlin's poll ratings]. Confronted by an ICE agent named Sartana (Jessica Alba), who realizes that Machete is a victim, she helps Machete get revenge on those who fucked with the wrong Mexican(s).
MACHETE is a great homage to the exploitation era of cinema. It has massive amounts of violence. There's a definite sex factor. The dialogue is pretty corny. And the story is very simple and straightforward, even though the message behind it is very calculated. MACHETE could have been a mess of a film if an incapable director was behind it. But Robert Rodriguez lives and breathes exploitation, which helps him find the balance between what works and what doesn't.
The screenplay by Rodriguez and his cousin Alvaro Rodriguez is self-aware of itself and uses it to its advantage. MACHETE is an absurd film and has no problem showing how proud it is of that fact. We have naked women who hide telephones in their vaginas like it was a natural act. We have men taking intestines and using them as means of escape. We have religious figures using God's name in vain and killing others without caring about the consequences. We have politicans being politically incorrect about immigration as if that sort of thing is accepted by the mainstream. We also have men hunting Mexicans for sport! All these moments are so damn ridiculous that they shouldn't work in a film's favor. But both Rodriguez cousins use the irony to create a surreal, yet entertaining film that knows these moments are ridiculous. MACHETE is not a subtle movie in terms of what it presents, which is exactly what an exploitation film should be.
The main subplot that glues MACHETE together is the immigration theme that's presented through multiple point of views. A lot of reviewers seemed to have an issue with this. This isn't because of the issue itself. I mean, the whole immigration debate is probably one of the leading news topics we're currently dealing with as a society. I'm surprised more films HAVEN'T used the topic as a starting point for a story. And I'm not going to sugarcoat it: MACHETE is definitely pro-immigration. After all, we sympathize more with the Mexican immigrants than we do with the "gringos" with political or financial power. I do think some scenes that focus on the issue do take away a bit of the exploitative feel of MACHETE. But it's never really forceful about whether immigration is a good thing or a bad thing. It never tries to push a social platform on its audience. The filmmakers have an opinion and decided to use that opinion in an exploitative way to entertain the audience. I honestly didn't have a problem with the social commentary of the movie. I think it actually enhanced some of it. Did it halt the flow a bit? Absolutely. But it never took center stage, which was refreshing.
My other issue about MACHETE would be the fact that the title character himself almost feels second-fiddle at times. I mean, it's hard to juggle so many intriguing characters in an 105 minute movie. I thought each character had a place in the story and were used appropriately in the story. But the film should have been more about Machete getting revenge on Torrez and Booth, and sometimes the film gets sidetracked from that. But it doesn't happen all that often, which is a plus.
The dialogue itself is instantly cheesy as hell, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Sartana's speech about the border is very hokey and would have been more effective if performed by a more capable actress. But lines like "Machete doesn't text," and Padre Benito Del Toro telling Machete, "I absolve you of all your sins. Now, get the fuck out!" are instantly classic. There's a lot of humor here at the expense of everyone. Americans, Mexicans, religion, politics, the life of a certain actress - nothing and no one is immune to ridicule here.
The gore in MACHETE is off the charts awesome! I kept ooh-ing and ahh-ing everytime someone got murdered. We see heads get cut off, limbs get cut off, gunfire, stabbing, intestines pulled out of bodies, blades through the skull, eyes getting shot, corkscrews through the head, and even a crucifixion scene. This film does not hold back on the violence and I appreciated that to no end. And these moments weren't even disgusting. They were more funny than anything. That's why it works so well.
The direction by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis is solid. The film moves at a great pace. The editing is tight. The fight choreography is shot perfectly. I loved the grittier look of the film. It would have fit right in with PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF three years ago. Rodriguez and Maniquis are having fun bringing their idea to life, and the audience has fun along with them. I think Rodriguez is a fantastic director who can make incredible movies with shoestring budgets and blockbuster budgets. The man can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. This movie may be silly, but it has a big heart. If anyone can bring exploitation back in the modern era, it's Robert Rodriguez [and Quentin Tarantino right along with him].
The acting in MACHETE is great for the most part. Danny Trejo, at 66 years old, finally gets a leading role and proves why it should have happened years ago. The man is a presence on screen, making Machete a true bad ass without a sweat. Trejo acts with his eyes, as he has barely any dialogue in the film. You can tell what his character is feeling just by looking at his eyes. That's the sign of a great actor. I don't think he should be leading a lot of movies, but given the right project, why not? He carries the film well and kicks ass too.
Robert De Niro seems to be having fun as the politically incorrect Senator McLaughlin. He's not in the film as much as one thinks, but he looks more motivated on film than I have seen from him in years. And I loved the TAXI DRIVER homage towards the end. Nice to see him make fun of himself like that. Same goes to Lindsay Lohan, who actually surprised me in her short role. It was obvious her April character was a parody of her real life, from the drug addiction, to using sexuality to gain attention, and to filming herself because the public wants to see more of her. I found her to be sympathetic and thought she did a good job. Let's hope this is a comeback for her. I still think she can do great things in cinema.
Michelle Rodriguez was cool as Luz. She was tough and sexy, but it wasn't forced like in some of her other films. It was a more naturalistic performance. It was refreshing to see and I enjoyed her alot. Jessica Alba is okay as Sartana. I thought she was miscast in the role of an ICE agent, to be honest. But she's eye candy, which the exploitation genre used a lot of their actresses for. So it works for me. Cheech Marin was hysterical as the priest. He had the best lines. Steven Seagal surprised me and made a captivating villain. It was nice to see him being part of the joke, since he tends to take himself way too seriously. Don Johnson hammed it up every chance he got and I loved it. And Jeff Fahey rocked it as the two-faced Booth. I think he's extremely underrated and should be in more films - better films. Just a solid cast all in all.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE MAKING SURE WHEN I HIRE TO KILL THE BAD GUY, THAT THE BAD GUY ISN'T ME
- A naked chick had a phone stuck up her vagina. It's the only time the "vibrate" option is preferable.
- Don Johnson doesn't like it when people step on his land. When you burn Nash Bridges with the guy, there's no turning back.
- Lindsay Lohan plays a drug addict. When did an exploitation film because a sad documentary of a troubled starlet's life?
- The Babysitter Twins play a couple of attentive nurses. Um, there's a porn movie in here somewhere, right?
- Michelle Rodriguez was seduced under the sheets by Danny Trejo. I don't know if his 66-year-old heart can take how FAST AND FURIOUS she is!
- Don't confess your impure thoughts and sins to your priest. He'll keep an inciminating file on your ass, causing your future to go UP IN SMOKE.
- Robert De Niro shot someone, stole a taxi, and drove away in it. If Jodie Forster and Cybil Shepard were around, I would have asked Robert Rodriguez whether he was talking to me. Who the hell else would he be talking...he talking to me? Well I'm the only one here!
THE FINAL HOWL
MACHETE is a great film that's well-made in the style of badly made films. Great action. Great characters. Great exploitation screenwriting. Great direction. And a cast of actors that you'll probably never see together in a movie ever again. It's not a perfect film and it may not have lived up totally to the hype around it, but MACHETE is worth the price of admission if you're looking for a entertaining movie that never tricks its audience in trying to be something it's not. Now if we can finally get that THANKSGIVING movie rolling, I'll be a very happy Wolf.