I went into Machete with low expectations. I had heard bad things. People say Robert Rodriguez has lost his touch. And really? A movie based on a fake trailer from another movie. Maybe going in with such low expectations is what saved the film for me, because I had a lot of fun.
This is by no means a classic film. I had never heard the term “Mexploitation” before today and thought I was being really clever and coining the phrase. Turns out there’s already a Wikipedia stub, but enough about that. Danny Trejo, in his first starring role, plays a Mexican version of Shaft. He begins the film as a Mexican federale on the hunt for a notorious drug lord, but he’s betrayed by the corruption in the system and left for dead.
Jump forward three years. The man known as Machete is now an illegal immigrant day laborer in Texas. By luck, or movie magic, he’s picked as an assassin for an anti-immigrant independent senator. Of course, it’s all a set-up and, of course, it all ties back to the same drug lord Machete has a score to settle with. But mostly it’s an excuse for violence while taking some not too subtle pokes at the immigration issue at a time when it’s at the forefront of the news.
And violence there is, in spades. In the first big fight scene Machete hacks off a gunman’s hand then picks up the gun, severed hand and all, and uses it to blow away several other baddies. With a name like machete you expect a lot of sharp objects to be in play and boy are there. There are some truly squickworthy scenes of gore here but there are also plenty of moments so over-the-top you can’t help but laugh. The plot isn’t worthy of Mamet but it gets the job done.
And, somehow, we buy the 66-year old Danny Trejo, who would probably not be offended if I called him a uglyass mofo, not only as an action hero but as someone all the women want to jump in bed with. And what women they are, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez and somehow Lindsay Lohan stayed out of jail long enough to portray someone not that dissimilar from her own public persona. The male cast are no slouches either. No less than Robert DeNiro plays the senator. Jeff Fahey, of Lost, does a wonderful job as his scheming underling while the big bad is played by Stephen Segal. Time hasn’t been all that kind to Mr. Segal, but he still has an air of menace that keeps him feeling threatening rather than laughable. A few of the name villains go down a little easily but most of their endings are poetic. And Cheech Marin’s small role as Machete’s priest brother almost steals the whole film. There’s an image in one his last scenes that I’m surprised hasn’t stirred up more controversy. Maybe films like this fly under the radar of advocates of a nanny state simply because it would be too odious for them to bring themselves to watch it in the first place.
I was impressed with numerous bits of foreshadowing. Some of it is obvious. A lingering shot of a corkscrew on a counter tells you that’s going into someone’s body. But others, like an offhanded comment about how long the human intestines are, come back in brilliant ways. The hero’s one-liners fall a little flat. Machete doesn’t really have a great catchphrase. The villains tend to have better dialogue than the terse Machete.
The end credits promise two sequels. Will they happen? Will they be straight to DVD? Placed in one of the worst box office weekends of the year Machete has not impressed at the box office so far. But this film could become a cult hit that thrives on home video. Violent, sexy and not unable to provoke some actual thought, Machete is not a classic movie, but it is a damn fine B-movie and those can be a lot of fun.