The well-appointed badass

Tips from The American and Machete

No mashed-potato jokes, please.

No mashed-potato jokes, please.

It’s not every weekend that two movies about practiced killers are new in theaters simultaneously. But that’s the situation this weekend with The American and Machete, and the urge to compare them is irresistible.

At first, you may notice the differences. The American was adapted from a British novel called A Very Private Gentleman, and directed by a Dutch photographer best known for making Depeche Mode videos. Clearly it’s a high-class affair, with cool, quiet sophistication permeating every frame.

Machete, on the other hand, was trumped up from a fake trailer for a Mexican-American exploitation movie, and directed by the guy who made Spy Kids and half of Grindhouse. It’s full of heat and noise, with blood and boobs everywhere, both obviously fake.

But we are not here to discuss differences. We’re here to discuss similarities, because similarities, in this case, are instructive. They teach some universal lessons of movie-hero badassery. What we learn from a double-feature of The American and Machete is that it doesn’t matter if you’re George Clooney or an ex-felon with a face like somebody once tried to make a Mexican Charles Bronson out of a pile of mashed potatoes and then left it in the sun. All that matters is knowing the score, getting the women and killing the bad guys. Here’s how.

Dress the part.

For the renegade ex-Federale taking aim at an immigrant-hating Texas senator played by Robert De Niro, a leather vest lined with knives is recommended. For the expatriate American assassin on a “working vacation” in provincial Italy, use any impeccably tailored suit jacket with pockets adequate for concealing a pistol. The well-appointed badass also will consider what to drive during his occasional chase scene. If you’re Clooney, a Vespa will do nicely. If you’re Danny Trejo, perhaps something bigger, with room to mount a Gatling gun between its handlebars.

Do not smile, do not say much.

You are a killer, remember. Also, your soul is heavy. Perhaps you let a special person into your heart once, and then had to let that person go before you were ready. Perhaps a beheading or a point-blank gunshot was involved. In any case, stoicism will be your way forward.

Do not trust your employer.

A man hires you to commit murder. Do not expect this man to stay on top of sending out 1099 forms at the end of the tax year, or, for that matter, valuing your life. Especially if he has steely eyes and lines on his face and a name like Booth (Jeff Fahey in Machete) or Pavel (Johan Leysen in The American).

Keep a man of the cloth handy—but not too close.

Ideally, he should be a sinner himself. He needn’t bring you any closer to God, as redemption really isn’t your bag, but he can at least supply comic relief. (See Paolo Bonacelli in The American, Cheech Marin in Machete.)

Let the women come to you.

Because of course they will. Machete has Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan to choose from. The American enjoys a nice picnic and some assassination shoptalk with Thekla Reuten, plus hot sex and reluctant love with a prostitute played by Violante Placido. It’s about options.

Your catch phrase conveys your authority, but does not contain you.

“Machete don’t text,” you say. Then you find yourself needing a cell phone to set a plan in motion. “I’m no good with machines,” you say. Then you borrow parts from a car mechanic to custom build a suppressor for your hand-assembled Ruger Mini-14 autoloading rifle. See?

To be clear: There is no right Mexican to fuck with, necessarily, but anybody who fucks with Machete will indeed have just fucked with the wrong Mexican. As for the American, when he says, “I do what I’m good at,” he couldn’t be more right.