When I first heard that Robert Rodriguez actually wanted to turn the Grindhouse trailer for Machete into a feature film, I rolled my eyes. Now, after seeing that idea realized, I’m still rolling them. There is a fine line between parody and idiocy, and Machete swerves in and out of both lanes until the road ends and it drives off a cliff into an abyss of complete madness.
Years ago, Machete (Danny Trejo) was a headstrong fedarale in Mexico tasked with the recovery of a pretty young kidnap victim and capture of a notorious Mexican drug lord (Steven Seagal, doing his best cloth-covered refrigerator impression). But when that victim turns traitor and the drug lord kills his family and leaves him for dead, Machete vows VENGEANCE!
Actually, not really, he disappears and becomes a Mexican day laborer in America.
Not exactly the revenge tale we were looking for, but it does kick into gear soon eventually, as Machete is hired to kill a state senator (Robert DeNiro looking confused as to what he’s doing here) pushing a hardline stance on illegal immigration. Sadly, Machete hasn’t learned his lesson yet, and he’s backstabbed one more time and afterward uncovers a conspiracy that travels all the way back to his old drug kingpin friend. Fool me once (and murder my family), shame on me, but fool me twice, and I guess it’s finally ass kicking time.
“Killing a state senator pushing stricter immigration laws? This will surely help my people!”
Machete murders his way through a surprisingly complex plot involving vigilante border patrols, a Mexican underground railroad, drug money-funded political pawns and a whole lot more. Fortunately for us, Machete doesn’t care too much about any of that, and is content with swinging his bladed instrument at anyone that looks at him funny.
He’s aided by a duo of beautiful Latinas, Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a freedom fighter helping smuggle illegals across the border, who enjoys building an army in her free time, and Sartana (Jessica Alba), a ICE agent who’s considered a traitor by many of her people. I guess Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek must have been busy, but their stand-ins are certainly worthy of our attention.
For as much eye candy has the film has, it’s certainly in part to balance out Trejo, who plays the lead anti-hero with such passive ferocity they might have just cast a grizzly bear, a creature also silent most of the time until he needs to get his murder on. For as much of a badass as Machete is, I’ll be damned if I can remember one line he had other than “Machete don’t text,” which provides one of the film’s few laughs. I understand the silent loner type, but Trejo’s Machete is so cold, he’s almost completely uninteresting as a hero. There’s no real personality in the character, other than his propensity to be able to kill someone with absolutely any household object. He just seems like a weapon that each side points in a direction, and he starts killing until everyone is dead and someone points him to his next target.
Somehow this ends up being Jessica Alba’s most convincing role in years.
And for as much murder and mayhem as there is to be found in the film, I can’t help but thinking it’s all terribly sloppy in execution, especially for Robert Rodriguez who made gunfights almost balletic in his Desperado trilogy with Antonio Banderas. But here Machete is more of a blunt instrument, hacking through bad guys like overgrown brush, and no one involved else is terribly concerned about earning any style points either. People are shot, they die, it’s bloody, but there’s nothing very memorable about any action scene in the film, save one moment of true absurdity where Machete slices a man open, and uses his large intestine to rappel out of a window.
One thing you can certainly say is that Machete doesn’t take itself seriously, but the entire project just seems like a weird amalgam of B-movie homage and laziness. Some of the moments are clear throwbacks to older grindhouse-ian films, but some just seem forced, and most really aren’t all that funny. The plot is oddly structured, and the different characters weave in and out of each other, and in the end most of the bad guys end up killing each other off rather than having Machete dispense his own justice, and “anti-climactic” is not a word that you should be associating with a movie like this.
In a lot of ways, I don’t feel like Machete goes far enough. Not as in it needs to pour a few more buckets of blood over naked actresses, but rather to go “full” homage, they should have shot the entire thing like Black Dynamite, where nearly every line, and every moment is pure ridiculousness, and the entire thing looks like it was actually shot in 1972. Here, with HD cameras and few memorable moments, Machete just seems half-hearted.
“See what happens when we let them in our country? They go around decapitating people with machetes!”
There’s supposed to be some sort of message about illegal immigration in here too, as that’s the underlying premise that drives the entire film, but as a I sat watching short order cooks and gardeners armed with AK-47s shoot at redneck ranchers and good ‘ol boys armed with M-16s, I wasn’t quite sure the point that was being made here. If they really wanted this to be some sort of deeper allegory about the issue, they would have been wise to make their point a little more clear.
A week or so ago, I got to sit down and watch another film that was an utter bloodbath with no basis in reality, an homage to previous action films with an all-star cast to boot. And viewing Machete so close to The Expendables just further highlights how much that film did right, and this one did wrong. It’s action packed without being exciting. It’s ridiculous without being funny. It’s just not that much fun, and really, why else would you want to see a film like Machete?
2.5 out 5 stars
Yes, Lohan is in this, and the lingering question after the film is if she used a boob double in her topless scene or not.