Machete (2010)

You will either love Machete or absolutely hate it. It is a deliberate and blatant parody of exploitation films circ. 1970’s and it is incredibly violent, crass, misogynistic, ridiculous and endlessly entertaining. It might jar in places and feel like an extended advert for the awesomeness of Mexicans, but it’s a hilarious thrill ride that never takes itself seriously.

Machete started as a mock trailer for the Quentin Tarantino / Robert Rodriguez drive-in horror homage Grindhouse. The trailer was so well received that Rodriguez decided to make a feature of it – something people relished the idea of.

The storyline is typically 70’s. A corrupt, racist senator is using a dodgy Mexican politician and a drug lord to ensure a massive fence is put up, cutting Mexico off from America. They will control it, and therefore control the illegal drugs trade and secure the Senator a second term of office. In order to upturn the Senator’s recent popularity downturn, they hire “day laborer” Machete Cortez to assassinate the senator. This, however, is all part of a massive double-cross, and Machete is framed for attempted murder and the senator’s popularity explodes. But one thing everyone learns is… you never mess with Machete.

The storyline is surprisingly more winding than this, throwing in a militia group run by the infamous “She” (Michelle Rodriguez), a group of trigger-happy Texan border guards, a gun-toting priest (Cheech Marin), an infamous assassin (Tom Savini) and a persistent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent (Jessica Alba). Yet it all leads to one thing – Machete versus Rich Bastards. And it’s carnage.

Machete is not for the faint of heart. Limbs fly, heads explode, swear words scream, boobs flash and a 66 year old Danny Trejo sexes up anything in a skirt… including Lindsay Lohan. It’s silly, but only if you like your silly really really violent.

As the titular Machete, it is marvelous to see Danny Trejo in a lead role. He has thrown out notable performances in Heat, Desperado, Con Air, Predators, From Dusk til Dawn and SherryBaby and has also featured in some God-awful film fails such as Alone in the Dark 2 and The Crow: Wicked Prayer. Incidentally, Trejo also plays the character of “Machete” in Rodriguez‘s sagging film franchise Spy Kids (due for a 4th installment in 2011, boys and girls). Paying his penance for a lifetime of bit parts, Machete is Danny Trejo’s movie, and he’s excellent in it. Thankfully, he’s not alone.

Robert De Niro as Senator John McLaughlin, Jeff Fahey as politician Michael Booth and Steven Seagal as drug lord Torrez all do marvelously in their hammy bad guy roles, upping the cliché and stereotypes and ensuring you hate every single one of them. De Niro is especially refreshing after a run of embarrassing comedies. Recently he’s felt like an ailing granddad dancing at a wedding, but in Machete he’s an aggressive, unlikeable racist hell-bent on power and he shines throughout. The baddies stab, shoot, strangle, blow up, back-stab, perve over children and generally act like despicable monsters. It’s classic 70’s parody, and really well realized.

Sometimes the pace sags in Machete, normally when Danny Trejo isn’t on the screen, and although the pro-Mexican slant is hilariously over-the-top it is somewhat overbearing in places. There are many many needless scenes and characters, but it does nothing to damage the film. It’s a clunkily plotted, ramshackle blood n’ boobs fest that can confuse but will always entertain.

The main flaws, however, tragically stand on the shoulders of the female leads. The 70’s was also known for kick-ass females who got naked and fired guns – Machete has elements of this, but they still feel stuck in the 70’s, not parodying it. Michelle Rodriguez is upsettingly dull throughout and Jessica Alba seems horribly out of place. Alba is so ridiculously conservative they had to CGI in her shower scene partial nudity and remove all her sex scenes from the script, which sits out of place in a movie packed with naked women and sex. Yet even if this doesn’t jar, her stronger moments also lack vigor and strength – her rallying speech is utterly baffling – Alba somehow manages to encourage a hoard of Mexican day-labourers to pick up their pitchforks and storm a militant’s stronghold, despite her sounding weak, uncertain and gratingly awkward. Machete is never about realism, but even the ridiculous stuff isn’t as ridiculous as Jessica Alba’s inclusion in this film.

Apart from Rodriguez and Alba, there is one more female lead of note, and that is Lindsay Lohan. Somehow Lohan steals the female show as Booth’s daughter April, with Lohan parodying herself brilliantly as a drug-addled rich girl who gets her breasts out for people on the internet, because “it’s what they want”. No matter how much we all hate her stupid face, she simply wins in her performance in Machete.

Machete is one long in-joke. The casting of Cheech Marin, Tom Savini and Jeff Fahey isn’t hugely subtle, and the film is riddled with references to many of Rodriguez’s past films – the knife-belt from Desperado, the boy from Spy Kids, a cameo from Predators director Nimrod Antal – the list literally goes on and on. If you’re not hugely film-savvy then Machete is still great fun, but you might wonder why some people are laughing at jokes you can’t see…

Danny Trejo deserves Machete, and he deserves your attention. Violent, silly, brutal, funny, idiotic and genuinely ridiculous, Machete is not for everyone, but if you buy into it you’re guaranteed to have a great time. If not, then you’ll probably walk out after the first five minutes… right after a naked woman slides a mobile phone out of her “front bottom”. You have been warned.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

5 Comments on “Machete”

  1. Dave P says:

    I felt Machete was trying to do too much – too many plots and too many villains vying for attention. The whole revolution against the racists made it feel bloated – it probably would have been tighter had it focussed on Machete’s bloody revenge.

    For me it veered between being hilariously OTT fun and incredibly dull and preachy (pretty much whenever Alba was on screen). Likewise you could cut Lohan and it wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference (save depriving me of the merest glimpse of her nips when she wakes up at the church).

    I wanted to love Machete, instead I just loved bits of it. It needed a proper editor.

    • Scullion says:

      SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

      Now that’s out of the way… I totally agree, Mister P, that the pace and tone was massively inconsistent. But then, the entire plot was. After watching his wife be decapitated in front of him, then the room he’s sitting in be set on fire (by a flamethrower!), we cut to a few years later… and he’s immigrationed himself illegally to Texas and has seemingly forgotten about revenge. Only when he’s set up for an assassination attempt (which he actually WAS guilty of) does he then take revenge. On everyone.

      Yet Machete is supposed to be ridiculous – plot wise, character wise and action wise – and you could have cut Lohan, Fahey, Savini, Marin and a tonne of other people, but it’s a parody. Sadly these films were just like this in the 70′s – bloated and absolutely f*cking ridiculous!

      If you go in expecting tight plotting, good editing and any semblance of subtlety then you’re going to have some serious problems…!

      All in all, I liked it. It was flawed, but I fear Roderiguez knew it… and simply didn’t care.

  2. TheMilkman says:

    I really enjoyed it, but felt the whole ‘immigrants are people too’ angle of the story a bit heavy-handed. It was totally appropriate that Steven Segal was in this film, him being a man completely convinced by the worthiness of his political agenda despite being utterly ridiculous. In fact this film felt a bit like a more knowing version of the last ten minutes of ‘On Deadly Ground’ (It’s on YouTube, for those not in the know).

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