Machete. Admit it; from the moment you saw Danny Trejo leaping over an explosion on a motorcycle tricked out with Gatling guns, you – like many – have been waiting for it, hoping that, some day, Robert Rodriguez would find the time to deliver the goods he’s promised since he and Quentin Tarantino released the commercial disappointment that was Grindhouse. Now that the real deal is finally here, is it as sack-o-rabid raccoons insane as it we had all hoped it would be? Oh, fuck yeah. And then some.
To be honest, all you really need to know about the story of Machete is pretty much already told in that original, now legendary spoof trailer, but this movie isn’t as nearly as concerned about plot points as it is the gruesomely violent and ultra-sleazy happenings that connects them. In a nutshell, a well-inked former Federale-turned-illegal-alien/migrant worker named “Machete” (Trejo) is picked up by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), a wealthy Texas businessman, and offered a suitcase full of cash in exchange for assassinating the crooked Senator McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro). Machete accepts Booth’s proposition after explains how McLaughlin plans to introduce a controversial new bill that would allow him to deport hundreds of Machete’s fellow illegals en masse. Of course, it all turns out to be a setup, as Booth was simply using Machete to drum up support for McLaughlin. Machete is mortally wounded and rushed off to the hospital, but, just as it says in the trailer, “you can’t keep a good Mexican down”. Machete escapes, making short work of Booth’s hired goons, and, with the help of Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and Padre (Cheech Marin), begins his bloody quest for vengeance. Complicating matters are is super-sexy and sassy INS Agent, Sartana (Jessica Alba), who is hired to hunt Machete down; Racist cop, Lt. Stillman (Don Johnson); Torrez, a scumbag drug dealer from Machete’s past, and an army of assorted thugs, punks, and cannon fodder that Machete has to hack his way through en route to Booth and McLaughlin.
Shot and presented in true 70’s/80’s exploitation style, with lots of scratches and flecks, skipped frames, and a generally grungy aesthete, Machete is a laugh-out-loud funny, over-the-top hunk of pure cheesy goodness. This is an unapologetically ridiculous film from start to finish, with zero regard for logic, physics, or the laws of human decency. It’s misogynistic (witness the mother-daughter-Machete ménage à trois), violent beyond comprehension, and, in some cultures, might even be considered heresy.
Yes, it’s that good.
I lost count of the dismembered limbs by the 30 minute mark. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure it would take a small army of accountants to figure out the body count here, and, even then, it’d be at best a rough estimate. It’s not just Machete killing people; he’s got an entire militia of angry illegals in tow, gleefully bashing their way through hordes of red state ruffians with everything from gardening tools to baseball bats. It’s all very bloody (albeit CGI enhanced and, admittedly, a little cheap looking at times) and it’s all very entertaining. I’d be tempted to say Machete is Rodriguez’s best film yet, but he shares directorial duties, here, giving frequent collaborator, Ethan Maniquis, his first shot at the helm.
I won’t pretend I noticed any difference; for all intents and purposes this looks very much like a Robert Rodriguez film to me, but, seeing as how Maniquis served as either an editor, associate editor, or visual effects supervisor on many of those films, I’d venture to guess that he’s a big reason why Rodriguez’s films look the way they do. I’m just sayin…
So what didn’t I like about Machete? Two words; Jessica Alba. This is a film in which the actors are supposed to look…well, you know…bad! It’s an homage to the guilty pleasure action/exploitation pictures of the grindhouse era, after all, so everyone’s been pretty much handed a free pass to ham it up, here. Alba, on the other hand, really seems to be trying to act, and, in the film’s most groan-inducing moment (an ill-advised motivational speech in which her character hops on the roof of a car to rally the troops) she couldn’t suck any harder if her mouth housed an industrial model Dyson. For comparison’s sake, Lindsay Lohan, an actress who probably spent the majority of her time on set doing Vodka/Red Bull shooters and snorting Adderall, turns in a better performance, you know James Lipton ain’t gonna be inviting inside his Actors’ Studio anytime soon. Of course, much of Lohan’s onscreen time is spent looking bored whilst in the buff (or damn near close to it - she has very strategically placed hair), whereas Alba only gives us a brief dose of computer-assisted “side nudity”. Therein, the coked-up redhead wins!
Machete is a film made by grindhouse fans, for grindhouse fans, and, as such, will probably have a fairly short shelf-life in cinemas. That’s fine, though, as I can only imagine the sort of madness Rodriguez was forced to leave on the cutting room floor (or on the hard drive, seeing as how everything he does is digital these days), so I can’t get my hands on an unrated director’s cut of this sucker on Blu-ray soon enough! It does seem that most of the mainstream critics “get it”, though, as Machete’s getting fairly solid reviews across the board, but, make no mistake, this one isn’t generating anything by way of Oscar Talk – the majority of these critics are folks like us, weaned on this sort of over-the-top mayhem during the glory days of action cinema, and, as such, are embracing the sheer novelty of Machete and his retro-grunge chic. If you’re going into this expecting anything more than that, you’ll be sorely disappointed, but if blood, boobs, and bombast are your thing, look no further than Machete for a gut-bustingly gory good time.