Slice and dice
Machete has something that the similarly targeted actioner The Expendables was sorely lacking. No, I’m not talking about naturally produced muscle fibers within its stars’ biceps and pectorals. I’m talking about a discernible sense of humor to go with its utter disregard for political correctness.
And nudity … it has lots of nudity.
The latest from producer and co-director Robert Rodriguez is a gory blast, a film that knows what genre fans want and isn’t afraid to deliver it. Having found its origins as a fake trailer in the tragically underrated Grindhouse, this schlock-fest headed by the gloriously haggard Danny Trejo delivers the strain of meat-headed fun that other summer offerings like Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables and the Rodriguez-produced Predators, which costarred Trejo, only hinted at.
Trejo’s Machete is an ex-Federale with a complexion that looks like the inside of a Three Musketeers bar and a penchant for extreme, bloody justice. After a tragic opening scene, where a surprisingly chunky Steven Seagal establishes himself as one of the film’s major bad guys, Machete ends up as a day laborer in Texas. He’s spotted and hired by Booth (Jeff Fahey), a mysterious man who wants him to assassinate the controversial Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). McLaughlin is running on an anti-immigration platform, so Booth figures a Mexican day laborer and probable illegal immigrant wouldn’t mind taking a shot at him.
The whole thing is a setup, and Booth is actually an evil adviser to McLaughlin looking to get him reelected. Fahey is hilarious here, and his sad days as The Lawnmower Man are now far behind him. As for De Niro, he hasn’t been this over-the-top fun since the ’90s. Think Max Cady, his deranged character in Cape Fear, mellowed a bit by age and segueing into politics.
Trejo grabs the chance to headline by the balls and makes it sing a bloody aria. When he makes out with Jessica Alba, one can’t help but feel that he is scoring a victory for haggard and/or ugly guys everywhere. You also feel a little sorry for Alba but, hey, it’s a paycheck.
And, yes, this film does have Jessica Alba … artfully naked at one point. (God bless you, Jessica Alba!) She plays an immigration agent who spies Machete visiting a taco truck, commandeered by Michelle Rodriguez who, I must admit, I’m kind of in love with. They head up a cool female cast that also features Lindsay Lohan in her coolest role since Mean Girls as Booth’s unruly daughter. And for those of you who will be wondering, no, those are not her breasts in the naked pool scene. That’s a body double. So, while you don’t get to see her fully naked, you do get to see her blast away bad guys while dressed in a nun outfit, which I consider a fair trade.
The aforementioned Seagal actually passed up a chance to be in The Expendables and wound up, thankfully, in this one. I come from the “I Hate Everything Stupid Steven Seagal Has Done!” corner of the movie theater, where all the cool people usually sit. This is, honestly, the first time I can say I purely enjoyed Seagal in something. He just works better as a disgusting villain, in part because he’s so oily and gross to look at.
Like The Expendables, Machete uses a lot of CGI gore. The difference here is that the gore isn’t supposed to be realistic. It’s supposed to be otherworldly and crazy. It also helps that Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis purposely dirty up the print a little bit so that the digital effects blend in.
Given that Grindhouse bombed at the box office, it’s surprising to see a spin-off make it to the screen. The final credits promise that Machete will return with titles such as Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again, so the spirit of Grindhouse lives on thanks to Robert Rodriguez and his band of nuts.