Veteran character actor Danny Trejo takes a rare turn as a lead in Machete, playing the eponymous ex-federal agent of Mexico hellbent on destruction. Naturally, he has a vendetta with a drug lord named Torrez (Steven Seagal). But Machete is also caught up in a vast conspiracy involving illegal immigration led by senator McLaughlin played by Robert De Niro, which has him on the run from the law. Helping Machete dispense justice are a taco vendor named Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) who happens to be the leader of The Network, a groups of freedom fighters and special agent Sartana (Jessica Alba).
The credits say Machete is directed by both Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez, but the marketing campaign gives the credit to Rodriguez who also serves as co-writer and producer. It’s also no secret that Machete stems from a fake trailer featured in the Grindhouse collaboration and it is suitably decadent with its vulgarity. Just about anything imaginable is on the table, including numerous CGI enhanced lacerations, intestines as rope, and a generally abusive use of female anatomy that needs no more detail.
Despite featuring a number of stars, some has-beens, retro-look techniques, and violence that would make the jaded shudder, the most that can be said for Machete is that it isn’t boring. It’s also not much fun. There is too much exaggerated violence to take the world seriously, and the violence in itself is not hysterical despite its outlandishness. The end result is a confusion between what should be funny and what should be intense.
The political message is obvious, clearly Rodriguez wants to establish freedoms for Mexicans residing in the USA illegally. As expected, any logical argument for the opposite is lampooned to the extreme. The character that best illustrates this is Von (Don Johnson), a minuteman border hound who takes the law into his own hands with the help of his good ol’ boys. So yeah, if you oppose enforcing immigration laws, you must be a redneck racist.
Danny Trejo isn’t wrong for this part. I’ve seen him as a distant supporting player on occasion and in many of those roles he was more talkative. At the least his face has the wear to make him sympathetic. Aside from Jessica Alba and a bit part from Lindsay Lohan, I don’t have many complaints regarding the acting. In all cases, the highlights of Machete revolve around Cheech Marin. He makes a funny gun-wielding Padre, whereas most of the other actors lack comic timing.
Machete is evidence of the dichotomy found in today’s standards. On one end it is becoming painfully difficult to create a dramatic film that will please a crowd. On the other it seems possible to throw everything into a lowbrow throwback and achieve assured acceptance. I know that Rodriguez’s reputation and ties to the untouchable Quentin Tarantino mean that anything with his name on it will be a hit with the target demographic: men. It won’t even matter that Machete is a lesser cousin to Kill Bill. These are films that are beginning to establish, for lack of a better word, a new genre. This genre masquerades as low budget, sound effect lifting, testosterone-piquing throwbacks to a time cinema should have forgotten. The view forward shouldn’t be tinted with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. *½