Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Starring Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson, Jeff Fahey, Robert De Niro
Robert Rodriguez had this idea for a film with a hero named Machete from his youth. He actually had the opportunity to partially realize that character in a faux trailer for the Grindhouse double feature that Rodriguez and Quinton Tarantino crafted a few years back. The overwhelming popularity of the trailer and the character spurred Rodriguez to go ahead and craft a full blown film around the character.
Machete was a man of the law in Mexico until a crime lord named Torrez (Steven Seagal) destroyed his family and nearly killed him too. Sometime later Machete has moved illegally to Texas and takes odd jobs as a day laborer for cash. Soon he finds himself mixed up in a plot to kill a Senator, or not, and to build an electric fence along the border so that crooked politicians can get control of the illegal immigrants for their own nefarious goals. Along the way a merciless border patrol lead by Lt. Stillman (Don Johnson) is literally taking no prisoners. This fascinating cast is rounded out by Jeff Fahey playing a criminal mastermind, Lindsay Lohan playing his drug addled and nunsploitation hero daughter, Cheech Marin as a gun toting Priest, Jessica Alba as a law enforcer looking to break up the network that’s helping illegals get across the border, and Michelle Rodriguez as the leader of said network and don’t forget Robert DeNiro bringing back his accent from Cape Fear to play the dirty Senator. Jessica Alba owes every cool thing she’s done in her career to Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron. Her best work to date is in this film, in Sin City, and in the TV series Dark Angel. Rodriguez just knows how to bring the cool out of her, not just how to shoot her so she looks good. He made Lndsay Lohan cool too. Say what you will but that alone makes Robert Rodriguez a brilliant filmmaker. Everyone in the film is actually doing some of their best work in this film though.
Machete is one of those movies whose violence and exploitation make you giddy with excitement and guilty if you stop and think about it. Should we really be laughing about people getting their heads completely blown off? Well, yes of course we should this is an exploitation movie damn it! When done right exploitation films are simple escapism and they offer a release like few other films can. Machete is a super hero for adults pure and simple. In these sorts of films there is always some social or political commentary but it’s always coated in a layer of over the top camp making it a tool of the storytelling more than an intelligent statement on the world in which we live. This film reminded me of a series of Grindhouse films featuring the character Billy Jack. Billy constantly had to defend Native Americans from the evil white men that usually wanted to do something like take their land. Blaxploitation films featured similar thematic elements from their perspective. These films do represent within them some real part of the social zeitgeist at the time they were made but they aren’t something to be considered as deeply intellectual or even relevant to the argument. Machete has stirred up some controversy due to the timing of its release and the events currently unfolding in Arizona. It’s very possible that these issues weighed heavily on the filmmakers minds as they were making the film but nothing here suggests that they feel that the movie represents who is to blame or what should be done about the situation. It’s like any sort of writing, the environment in which the story was written has some impact on the story, that’s it.
Machete is a slam bam action/exploitation film like we haven’t seen in theaters since the 1970’s. Everything is over the top, the action, the characters (good or bad), and the story. There’s tons of violence and tons of nudity or at least fetishized females. That’s what exploitation is. The biggest complaint I have with the film is that while Rodriguez has balls enough to dip his toe into Grindhouse exploitation he doesn’t have balls enough to just let the movie be a Grindhouse film without winking at the audience. Those great old films were just what they were, unapologetically so but Rodriguez takes tons of opportunities to wink at the audience during Machete to say look at what I’m doing here it’s supposed to be funny and over the top. While I am registering a complaint here I also have to admit that most of these heavy handed jokes were really funny. I love The Devil’s Rejects because that film isn’t homage or a wink to the audience about 70’s horror films; it’s just one of them. The recent Piranha 3D is very nearly perfectly an 80’s over the top horror film. Rodriguez, like his brother in film Quinton Tarantino, has to be in on the joke with the audience rather than just presenting the film to the audience and allowing them to enjoy it their own way.
Machete is just damn fun. There’s not much more to it than that. This some of the most fun you’ll have in a theater this year.