Machete's Entertaining Madness
Most films, regardless of quality or lack thereof, attempt to exhibit some level of good taste for the general public. Roberto Rodriguez’ Machete, released in 2010, is not one of these films. Choosing to forgo using his film making talents in favor of not giving a care, Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis crafted a film completely out of control, with enough explosives and half naked (sometimes fully naked) women that it’s a wonder Michael Douglas didn’t get involved in production. Machete isn’t for those who value the true art of film making; it is however for those who just love having a damn old good time.
Based on the fake trailer from the joint Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino exploitation epic Grindhouse, Machete is the story of, well, Machete (Danny Trejo) a former Mexican Federal who may or may not be Uncle Machete from Rodriguez’ four Spy Kids films (which range from excellent to please God just stop already). Years after being left for dead in Mexico by drug lord Rogelio Torrez (Steven Segal), Machete resurfaces in Texas as a day laborer, where he is asked by the mysterious Booth (Jeff Fahey) to kill Senator John McLaughin (Robert De Niro), who is looking to close the border to Mexican immigrants. And that’s pretty much it, as the plot slowly dissolves into a blur of blood, guts, three ways, and a conspiracy involving Booth, McLaughin, Torrez and border vigilante Von Jackson (Don Johnson) that you need to hear to believe. Along this wonderful path, Machete is assisted by his priestly brother (Cheech Marin), taco vender/revolutionary Luz (Michelle Rodriguez, no relation to the director) and U.S. Immigration Agent Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba).
Those looking for Rodriguez to have some of the innovative technical flash he’s exhibited in past films like Sin City will be disappointed; the director plays the technical aspects mostly straight in this one in favor of letting the over the top action to take center stage. And that it does, as there’s hardly a scene in Machete that doesn’t feature an explosion, severed limbs, shots fired and even intestines being used in a way that you never thought possible. If you’re looking for violence, this is the film for you. The most shocking thing Rodriguez does with Machete however is the political message it carries. Yes, through all the violence and goofiness, Rodriguez attempts to explore the immigration issue that was currently (and still is) going on in the United States. Does he succeed? Yes and no; sometimes the satire towards the issue is very funny (particularly all of McLaughin’s campaign ads), but it’s hard to take the message seriously when the rest of the film is as nuts as it is.
In typical Rodriguez fashion, the cast for Machete is all over the place, ranging from well known performers to has been's to B players. The film’s villains are perhaps the highlight; De Niro, Johnson, Fahey and Segal are each hysterical in their own right, with Fahey in particular going far over the top in almost every scene he’s in. Spy Kids alumni Daryl Sabara has a few amusing scenes as adopted Mexican Julio, and Cheech Marin is glorious as Machete’s padre brother; his scenes in the middle of the film are worth the price of admission by themselves. As expected, most of the female performers don’t have a ton to do here other than wear little clothing and take off said clothing. Only Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and “Wild Thing” Lindsay Lohan as Booth’s party girl daughter are given lines and something to do other than be gorgeous. Ranking the three, Alba is the worst, Rodriguez is the best and most interesting, and Lohan is the most memorable. By the time it’s over, she’ll have been naked, had a three way, wound up in a nun outfit and uttered the immortal gem, “I know all about cracking nuts.”
But the star of Machete is Machete himself. Trejo, more well known for being a character actor over the years in films like Con Air, Bubble Boy and the aforementioned Spy Kids films, finally got his chance in a lead role for this film and he delivers with stoic gusto. Most of the film’s funniest moments come from him, mostly because Trejo keeps Machete acting straight as everything around him fireballs out of control. The two major highlights are when he utters, “Machete don’t text”, and when he finally sends a text to Booth, prompting another wonderful over the top reaction by Fahey (it’s no coincidence the film works best when Trejo is in scenes with either Fahey or Rodriguez). It also helps that Trejo makes Machete a complete badass, and carries off the action sequences just as well as some of the greats have over the years.
For a long time, it really seemed unclear how Rodriguez wanted to operate as a director, juggling genre after genre film after film. With Machete, it appears that Rodriguez has decided to build off his work from Grindhouse and go into the B-movie/exploitation area, which while not the best use of his talent seems to be where he feels most in his element. Machete is certainly not the high art that Rodriguez accomplished with Sin City, but it’s an entertaining ride and proves that exploitation films still have a place in modern culture, and could possibly even thrive if certain elements (like Machete’s political overtones) click correctly in the future. Whether or not Rodriguez can accomplish that with the upcoming sequel Machete Kills (released this weekend) or the second sequel Machete Kills Again…in Space (that’s not a joke there, it’s actually happening) is yet to be seen. But if I can quote Kevin Bacon from A Few Good Men, “it’s going to be entertaining.”