Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Machete (2010)

My life-long question of "what would a movie based on a fake trailer made for another movie look like" has finally been answered.

Now to think about whether I actually needed the question answered.

MACHETE takes the faux trailer constructed by Robert Rodriguez for 2007's GRINDHOUSE and attempts to wrap the gritty, larger-than-life sequences into an action-packed story that would fit right in as a third feature with PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF.  Co-directed by Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, Rodriguez's editor on the original GRINDHOUSE, MACHETE stars Danny Trejo as Machete, ex-Federale turned day laborer turned assassin for hire turned freedom fighter turned mythological figure.  I could make an off-color and cliché joke about Mexicans and the number of jobs they have*, but MACHETE does that for us, making some deft points about our current attitudes toward immigration and citizenship without falling out of the rigid framework of a 70s exploitation flick.  When you strip away the sex and violence that sold both the trailer and the film, it's these small pieces - a group of minor henchmen commenting on the hypocrisy of allowing immigrants into our homes but not into our country, two dishwashers in a restaurant sharing a light, comic moment over errors in each others native language, the tongue-in-cheek rallying speech at the Home Depot (although you could argue whether this scene is played intentionally bad or is merely the result of Jessica's Alba's acting chops - I prefer to think it's intentional) - that stay with me as the strongest pieces of MACHETE, and serve to elevate the film over its more humble origins.

But that's not what we're come to the theater to see, and Rodriguez knows it.  We're here to see Danny Trejo, possibly the most interesting looking man in movies today, kill a large number of people with a machete, and that's what we get.  Jeff Fahey plays senatorial aide Booth, who hires Machete after watching him in a back alley fight to assassinate Senator McLaughlin, a racist good ol' boy whose zero tolerance policies, Booth says, are wrecking not only the lives of immigrants but the Texas economy.  Of course it's really a set-up, designed to make the senator an almost-martyr, thus guaranteeing him the election and the sway to put his anti-immigration laws into effect.  They only made one mistake:

They should have made sure he was dead.

Since they didn't, the rest of MACHETE is filled with Trejo wielding a variety of weapons, including a machete the size of a man's leg, and basically killing everyone he can - when he's not getting shot, stabbed, or jumping off of buildings.  Or having sex - with Booth's wife and daughter in a scene taken straight from the trailer; with She, the leader of the Network (played by Michele Rodriguez, looking hotter than she ever has and making up for everything she did in Lost), and almost with Jessica Alba, except that Machete's too much of a good guy for that, except he's really not since we literally just saw him screw two girls at once 15 minutes ago.  The violence is over the top if a little too reliant on CGI, and everyone in the film dive into their roles with a good old fashioned relish - Stephen Seagal has never been more ridiculous, and looks like he's having more fun in a film than he has in years.  Jeff Fahey probably comes off best, and really should be getting more and more work after this and all his scene stealing in Lost, but the treat and the shame of MACHETE is in Danny Trejo's performance.  Having to carry an entire film on his shoulders is a heavy load, and I'm hesitant to say Trejo's not up to the task, because most of what he has to do is stitch together scenes in order to get to the money shots from the faux trailer.

And that's my biggest qualm with MACHETE as a full-length movie: it's entertaining in spots, and does what it sets out to do, which is to give you the movie that was promised in the trailer, but feels constrained by having to hit each of those points.  When the film stretches out a bit as mentioned above, and gives us those glimpses into to the bigger issues the film wants to address, it makes for a more exciting and fun film.  And while I enjoyed MACHETE, if I really want to get my kicks from schlock 70s cinema, I'd probably go back and watch PIRAHNA 3D a second time.

* I really struggled over whether or not to leave that joke in - my decision to keep it in was based on my belief (perhaps misguided) that it was keeping in the spirit of the best parts of the film for me - those brief scenes that address our perceptions of immigrants and their place in our country.  I sincerely apologize to any who might read it and be offended - offense was certainly not my intent.


  1. I enjoyed this film for what it was. Does it wear out its welcome? Maybe. It could have been trimmed a little bit but it pushed all the right buttons - plenty of eye candy, loads of violence and even a message to give you something to think about as the end credits role.

    I also liked the bit parts with Cheech Marin and Tom Savini... with the latter suggesting perhaps the baddie for the inevitable cheapie sequel? One can only hope...

  2. I really didn't like this film. I never bought into Rodriguez's stunt casting of Fahey, Johnson, or Seagal. It seemed more of a nod towards the "cheesiness" of the film rather than using a "cheesy" film as an opportunity to showcase some unexpectedly good acting (at least in Fahey and Johnson's case). One could argue that's the point. But at least Tarantino genuinely seems to admire and respect the B-actors he casts in his films. It's never been someting I've observed from Rodriguez before, but beginning with this film, I'm starting not to get that from Rodriguez.

  3. Really? I never get that vibe from Rodriguez at all. Hell, he was giving Mickey Rourke juicy roles in films before his "comeback" with THE WRESTLER. And I thought that in the cast of Fahey he hit out of the park in PLANET TERROR. He was actually my fave part of the entire film and not only acted as comic relief but actually had a genuinely poignant moment towards the end of the film. It seems to obvious to me that Rodriguez is a fan of these guys and this is also apparent on the extras (at least for PLANET TERROR) as well.

  4. J.D. - While I enjoyed it for what it was when I walked out of the theater, the time between then and writing the review (about a week) I think showed the cracks in the film more than if I had just wrote something up immediately after viewing. I always enjoy Cheech Marin, and did here as well, but thought Savini got squandered.

    Tony - I can't say I'm the biggest Robert Rodriguez fan, but I enjoyed the Fahey and Seagal casting - although I think the Seagal (and Johnson) bit definitely falls into your "nod towards cheesiness" category. But if I had to list all my issues with the film, the acting would fall below the story and script issues. 100% with you though on Tarantino's respect for ANY actor he casts.

    J.D. (again) - Next to DESPERADO, I think PLANET TERROR might be my favorite R.R. film, and I think he does a great job with the actors he uses there. I wish MACHETE had some of the same spirit as PLANET TERROR. As it stands, I think MACHETE is mroe of a "one and done" for me.