Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis
Starring Danny Trejo, Robert DeNiro, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan
Written by Robert Rodriguez, Alvaro Rodriguez
Machete was the goose that laid the golden eggs, but that changed to just an ugly duckling with the political climate of the time. Will people remember what caused the plot to go from “…this idea of a federale from Mexico who gets hired to do hatchet jobs in the U.S. I had heard sometimes FBI or DEA have a really tough job that they don’t want to get their own agents killed on, they’ll hire an agent from Mexico to come do the job for $25,000…” to what they turned out? Over the last couple of years, with citizens in Arizona deciding they had enough immigration issues and passed a measure they hope will do something about it. Robert Rodriguez decided to use Machete as a crutch for his opposition to this. As a result the movie, which should have been fun, becomes a political softball, and often a labor to watch, as a result.
Starting out with the title character raiding a compound of bad guy Steven Seagal, looking for a kidnapped girl. What he finds after creating a bunch of corpses, is his kidnapped wife and child killed before his own eyes. 3 years later, he is a day laborer, who gets hired by Jeff Fahey’s Booth to assassinate DeNiro, as bad guy conservative Senator McGlaughlin. Things go awry, as they are apt to do in the first quarter of an action film. Machete ends eluding his captors, because, really, we aren’t past the first third of the film, and barely survives. Along the way, he picks up some chicks who are infatuated with his ways, regroups, and prepares to kick ass in the finale.
Why was Machete set up? Well, conservative Texas State Senator McGlaughlin, who really is bad, kills immigrants for sport with another conservative, Don Johnson’s border vigilante Von Jackson. Looking for political heft to back his anti-immigration status, he works with political hack (read: Karl Rove) to fake his own assassination. This works like a charm for the middle part of the movie, but things must unravel so Machete can prevail and save illegal immigration for everyone.
The best of the sequences of this film, held over from the trailer that was wholly produced for fellow Grindhouse movie, Planet Terror, satisfy any of those looking to Rodriguez for any amount of his usual humorous splatter and gore. The escape scene from the hospital and the ending give many of these moments in their ruggedly absurd glory. This movie would have succeeded if only it could have set its sites as low as possible.
But that’s not what happened. Rodriguez thought tweaking it just a bit might add some relevance. Instead, he made his position seem as comical as the violence it lampooned. The Robert Rodriguez of 10 years ago would have known this, and made fun of it. Some might say that he is in on the joke. But there is a difference between a crisp 2 minute trailer and an hour and a half of making the opposing viewpoint seem like a murderous joke.
One could almost guess the acting performances based on this. Fahey fares the best for the bad guys, given his penchant for the task at hand, rather than the reasoning behind it. He’s been waiting for a role like this one and with Machete and LOST in 2 successive years, I would say he’s doing alright. DeNiro, however, is slumming here. Much like Johnny Depp in Rodriguez altogether incoherent Once Upon A Time In Mexico, DeNiro’s Texas State Senator is not even acted. He is just a buffoon. There is even less here to recommend than his role in the Fockers films. Segeal and Johnson are here, I think, just so we can see them die as sleaze balls. Good choice.
On the good side, you have the always reliable (in short durations) Cheech Marin, playing Padre. Padre is exactly what you’d
expect. and I am just fine with this. Rodriguez plays the usual version of herself, with one major difference. Alba almost does some acting, until someone reminds her that she is in a movie for Troublemaker Studios. Linday Lohan chews up her scenery with aplomb. I can wait for her to get her personal thing together. She can flat-out act, even in cheese ball mode.
The true heft of the movie, of course, is Trejo. He has the, “just human enough to kill” thing down pat. The key to his role is to always be the outsider, and he does that well. He can be your friend one moment, kill (or do something else to) your mother the next. Danny Trejo is every bit the icon we wanted him to be. For his sake alone, I hope they make the allotted 2 sequels.
In short, the movie is a great idea, with good execution, and a bit of a political distraction coming out of the gate. Worth a look, but don’t get too hung up on the “message.”
(***1/2 out of *****)