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Friday, September 3, 2010

Machete - He Gets the Women & Kills the Bad Guys

Machete: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Let me start by saying Danny Trejo is awesome. The fact that we are living in a time where he is headlining a movie is great. Trejo has gone from boxing in San Quentin to becoming incredibly prolific, appearing in well over 100 films. He has served mainly as a memorable, tough Mexican in roles ranging from Navajas in Desperado to one of De Niro’s men in Heat to a bartender in Anchorman. Having a movie like this, with Robert Rodriguez’s direction and a very varied cast involved is wonderful. I had a lot of fun with this movie. That being said, having a 105 minute movie stretched from a hilarious (and awesome) 2 minute trailer really only works best if one can keep up that same momentum throughout. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t quite accomplish that. It’s still a lot of fun, but doesn’t cement itself as a “grindhouse” classic.
Luz: Machete, I know the legend.
Trejo stars as Machete, a top Federale agent, who is most handy with his trusty machete blade. The film begins with Machete attempting to rescue a damsel and take down a drug lord, Torrez (played by Steven Seagal), which completely backfires, resulting in the death of Machete’s wife and his exile to Texas, where he begins work as a day laborer. Years later, Machete is recruited by a mysterious business man, Booth (played by Jeff Fahey), to assassinate Senator John McLaughlin (played by Robert De Niro). This Senator is hell bent on closing down the borders and putting up a huge electrified fence, but many are not in favor of this plan. Machete accepts the job, but things aren’t as they seem, as it is quickly learned that he has been setup for the sake of boosting popularity in the Senator’s cause. And to make matters more interesting, the Senator may have closer ties to Machete’s past than he knows.


The film also stars Michelle Rodriguez as a taco-truck owner who moonlights as a rebel leading the immigrants to a better place, Jessica Alba as a beautiful Immigrations Officer, Cheech Marin as a gun-toting priest and Machete’s brother, Tom Savini (hell yeah!) as a rival assassin, Don Johnson as a twisted border vigilante, trying to keep the immigrants out and Lindsay Lohan as “herself”…a girl who’s made some bad choices.
Sartana: We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us!
Stemming from the mind of Robert Rodriguez many years ago, the idea of the original trailer featured in the Rodriguez/Tarantino two-part, genre-fest, Grindhouse, was to have all the best parts of a fake action (or Mexploitation) film to be cut together in a short and amazing montage. Featuring footage that is all over-the-top, ridiculous, and very deliberate, the concept was fantastic in that form. Due to the popularity of that trailer, this film has been made, but it features less moments than one would hope for that match the great moments in the original trailer, which are in fact incorporated into this film.


A lot of weight was put onto the intricate plotting of this film. I say that with somewhat loose regard, because this certainly isn’t a film that you get into for it’s plotting, but there are still a lot of moments devoted to explaining what the big issues of this film are, whether it be about its very firm stance on the rights of immigrants (which leads to some humorous social commentary), the idea of fighting for justice, or its simple cause for revenge. When time is spent on these the first two elements, the film really bogs itself down. If the film just focused on Machete’s revenge and shaved twenty minutes off its runtime, I think it would have been a lot more fun. Not to say that the film is too serious, it just feels a bit overstuffed and could have been tighter.
Booth’s Henchman: [about Machete] CIA, FBI, DEA all rolled up into one.
With that out of the way, it’s now time to focus on what this film does well. It gives us more Machete. This character, who could only be played by Trejo (I don’t care if it’s a flashback to him as a child, only have Trejo play him) is the embodiment of Mexican bad-assery. He knows how to kill, he says all the right things – “Machete don’t text,” and all the women want him. He’s also a great improviser, always having a way to get out of a tough situation (see hospital escape sequence). As Rodriguez and Trejo have described Machete, he is really the first Latino superhero.

This film benefits from its large cast as well. While not everyone seems to quite be up to speed on how to play the joke of this film, for the most part, everyone is solid. Cheech Marin is a hilarious oxymoron, acknowledging his faith while taking out hitmen. Don Johnson and Steven Seagal are surprisingly very funny and seem to be having the times of their lives. De Niro is more than game to have a lot of fun here. Rodriguez, Lohan, and Alba (In that order, best to worst, in terms of acting) make sure to fill this movie’s hot babe quota. And Jeff Fahey manages to be my favorite, continuing his run as great B-movie character actor.


The direction from Robert Rodriguez, who shares credit with his frequent collaborator, Ethan Maniquis, is solid, although the movie begins with the style and look that he created for his half of Grindhouse – Planet Terror, but then does not continue for the rest of the film. It is certainly over-the-top throughout (see hospital escape sequence), but I wish this movie just went full on as another edition to Grindhouse. That being said, Rodriguez once again uses his love for making films digitally to deliver the kind of film that’s cool and slick, with some fun and well shot action. I just hope that with these films out of his way, Rodriguez can get on with making his follow up to Sin City.

I wish I could have loved this film, but I did like it a lot. It’s more fun than The Expendables, but not quite as much fun as Piranha 3-D, although it is better made. Really, Machete satisfies in mostly all the ways it can. It has a lot of over-the-top action, ridiculous sequences and characters and lead star Danny Trejo being completely bad ass. Despite my reservations, I’m sure this film will continue to benefit from repeated viewings down the line.
Padre Benito del Toro: It’s not safe for you to be here.
Machete: I’m not looking for “safe”.
Padre Benito del Toro: No, I mean it’s not safe for me for you to be here!

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