Robert Rodriguez delivers ultra-violent tribute to exploitation flicks
In case you didn’t catch Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 double feature Grindhouse, Machete got its start as a fake trailer that kicked off the effort with a bang. It was a retro teaser for a Mexploitation movie that didn’t exist, but should have. And now it does. And it pretty much lives up to the badassery promised.
After all these years of being the go-to badass playing backup in all sorts of action vehicles, veteran Danny Trejo finally gets to take the wheel. Here he plays the eponymous Machete. No last name, just Machete. He’s a Mexican federal whose weapon of choice is a long, sharp blade. He’s very, very good at his job, which seems to be chopping up the bad guys with that blade. But one day, he gets in a little too deep with the wrong bad guys—a Mexican drug cartel led by Steven Seagal (in his first turn as a villain). Unfortunately for Machete (and even more unfortunately for his family), the cartel is only a tentacle of an evil octopus that squats over the border via the Texas legislature. Needless to say, Machete ends up having a very bad day.
Cut to three years later: Machete is an illegal in Texas, picking up cash as a day laborer. He’s recruited by some slimy dude (Jeff Fahey) in a sleek limo to whack a Texas senator (Robert De Niro) running for re-election on an anti-immigrant platform. And before you can say, “Oswald was a patsy,” Machete is given an excuse to start tearing through all sorts of henchmen with his blade. Or whatever sharp object is at hand.
Things get very violent, and very funny—if that’s your bag.
Machete isn’t for everyone. It takes an appreciation for ’70s-era grindhouse flicks, or at least ’80s low-budget Cannon films like Commando or Death Wish 3, and definitely a sick sense of humor. But armed with that, Machete delivers the goods. Albeit with a qualifier: the movie tends to bog down as it gives face time to the stunt casting. Along with De Niro and Seagal, we’ve got Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan as the chulas, and Fahey, Tom Savini, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson and other familiar faces dropping through. As the story hiccups to accommodate what in some cases are extended cameos, the momentum of the action tends to lag. The 145-minute running time could have easily been trimmed down to 90.
And as far as some folks feeling threatened by the subtext of Mexicans taking up arms against oppression, I’d say get over it. Machete is a big ol’ action cartoon. If you feel threatened by that, you probably just need to stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting and stay inside.