Mexican or Mexi-can’t?
Image: Sony Pictures
Back in 2007, one of the more highly praised aspects of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse collaboration was the fake trailers. Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, and Rodriguez himself contributed promos of non-existent B-movies. Three years later, Rodriguez has given us Machete, the full-length version. The trailer was a hilarious couple of minutes, but how does the film work stretched out over 100 minutes?
Grizzled Federale Machete (Danny Trejo) is double crossed and left for dead at the hands of drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal), but survives and makes his way to Texas. There he’s approached by the oily Booth (Jeff Fahey) who wants him to assassinate anti-immigration Senator McLoughlin (Robert De Niro). Shockingly, he’s double crossed. On the run from the cops, his only hope is taco vendor/guerrilla warrior Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and immigration agent Sartana (Jessica Alba). Booth has no idea who he’s messed with...
It goes without saying that Machete is over the top and silly. Anyone who saw the original trailer will tell you that ridiculous violence, hammy performances, and more of “that henchman from that action movie” Danny Trejo (Heat, From Dusk Til Dawn) than you’ve ever seen in one film are the order of the day. And while Rodriguez and his co-director Ethan Manquis stick to that mission statement, things go well. The prologue, in which Machete tries to rescue a witness from Torrez, is the right combination of shockingly gory and hilariously funny. This is helped by the fact that the presence of cinematic punch-line Seagal, who’s put on weight as well as a dodgy Mexican accent, fits seamlessly with the tone.
But things go wrong when the film tries to make a statement. Far be it from me to condemn the filmmakers for wanting to say something about immigration and racism in Texas. But this tongue in cheek action throwback was never going to be the right platform for it. The directors also make the mistake of giving all of the “serious” stuff to Alba and Rodriguez (Avatar). The latter at least seems to get the tone, but Alba plays it dead straight. Dialogue beyond one-liners has never been Robert Rodriguez’ strong suit and Machete proves no exception. By the time Luz and Sartana have finished their morality debate (“It’s the law.” “There are many laws.”), you’ll be itching for the film to remember the fun.
And fun there is. There are frequent gory and inventive action sequences that should match the expectations of Rodriguez fans. There are also the usual familiar faces. Alba and Trejo aside, Cheech Marin appears as Machete’s padre bro, and make-up wizard Tom Savini pops up as an assassin. Fahey (Planet Terror) is slimily fun as Booth, original Crockett Don Johnson is weirdly effective as murderous racist border vigilante Von, and Shea Wigham (Wristcutters) does a good lip curl as Booth’s henchman. Robert De Niro must have owed Quentin Tarantino quite the backlog of birthday and Christmas presents to appear here, and gives an awful performance.
It moves along pretty quickly, but veers from shockingly entertaining to deathly awful so often that it’s impossible to say that it’s entertaining throughout. However, it’s great to see perpetual henchman Trejo get his own film.
It’s uneven and often terrible, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun.