Mark Reviews Movies

MACHETE (2010)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert De Niro, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, Lindsay Lohan, Tom Savini, Don Johnson

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 9/3/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 2, 2010

Machete brings to mind two pieces of short media. The first, obviously, is the phony trailer (the best of the bunch, now undermined quite a bit) for the then fake movie at the beginning of co-director Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's double feature Grindhouse. It was rightly popular, and this is what popularity hath wrought.

The second is a campaign ad by a politician in Georgia (who will remain nameless, for I do not wish to plug in any way, shape, or form). In it, he speaks of illegal immigrants costing the state and its taxpayers millions of dollars, just before meeting two kids (white ones, natch) down by the ol' fishing hole.

I mention the political ad because Machete features its own fake ones for a conservative United States Senate candidate, one of which uses terms like "parasites" and "sucking" to make its point about illegal immigrants who cross the border and steal jobs from real Americans (and since the movie takes place in Texas, everyone knows the ad isn't talking about Canadians). The images of cockroaches and worms are juxtaposed with border crossings.

As it turns out, there is little difference between the two, except that the real advertisement is self-parody while the movie's conceptualized one is satire that is either too tame or too late. Whichever is true, the point is that it misses the mark.

The same, then, is true of Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis' movie as a whole, especially when compared to that riotous spirit of the imitation trailer.

Danny Trejo is Machete, a former Mexican federale whose weapon of choice is, of course, his machete. While attempting to rescue a kidnapped woman, Machete watches as drug cartel leader Torrez (Steven Seagal) beheads his wife.

Three years later, Machete is a day laborer. One of those days, a mysterious businessman named Booth (Jeff Fahey) offers him some work: Assassinate incumbent Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) for $150,000 or die. He chooses the former but soon finds out the whole thing was a setup. Now, the Senator is alive and seeing an increase in poll numbers, Booth's goons are after Machete, and Torrez is overseeing the whole thing.

Rodriguez, who also co-wrote the script (with Álvaro Rodríguez), makes good on the faux trailer's promise of exploitation-style violence and bloodshed (The MPAA's rating administration's rationale for its R might as well serve as the movie's tagline). Within a few minutes, Machete has chopped off an assailant's hand and used the guy's gun against other attackers—while it's still in the hand. A spinning, quadruple decapitation follows soon after, and there are impalings, maulings, dismemberments, stabbings, and exploding heads galore in the many minutes after that.

It does become routine rather quickly, because the movie's sense of humor about its violence is one that hinges on shock rather than wit. It's mayhem rather than mania.  One sequence features a deadly but joking use of a meat thermometer (in combination with a dead body and a fiery explosion) in an attempt to return to gory sight gags, but it's too little, too late.

The script overloads on characters. There's Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), owner and operator of a taco stand at the day labor site, who may or may not be (Answer: She is, and she isn't) the elusive "She," a revolutionary who runs an underground border-crossing, job-obtaining network. Sartana (Jessica Alba) is an ICE agent investigating Luz and suspicious of but helpful to Machete. April (Lindsay Lohan) is Booth's daughter with a penchant for getting into trouble. Cheech Marin plays Machete's priest brother, who has no qualms killing or using his confessional booth for possible blackmail opportunities. Then there's Stillman (Don Johnson, receiving a jokey "introducing" before his name in the credits), leader of a vigilante group that kills illegal immigrants just as they're about to cross.

The immigration debate is front and center, and in its simplified form, Rodriguez has hit the key elements of it. The contrast between McLaughlin, who pretends hatred but in reality will take whichever side is my likely to earn him power, and Stillman, who does have a deep-seated loathing for anyone or anything that doesn't meet his qualification of American (shooting a pregnant woman, because otherwise her baby would become a legal citizen with the same rights as his kind).

All of this, though, gets to the problem with Machete. Its evolution from a quick and to-the-point mockery to an overstuffed and tonally shifting feature has not served the material well. It is sometimes best to leave things to the imagination.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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