Friday, January 21, 2011

Machete


Directed by Robert Rodriguez.
2010. Rated R, 105 minutes.
Cast:
Danny Trejo
Jeff Fahey
Jessica Alba
Robert De Niro
Steven Seagal
Michelle Rodriguez
Don Johnson
Lindsay Lohan
Cheech Marin


A couple years ago, director Robert Rodriguez joined forces with his bestest buddy, fellow filmmaker Quentin Tarantino to create Grindhouse, an homage to low-budget, 1970s grindhouse cinema. Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is unquestionably the more adrenaline-charged of the two halves. It has loads of zombies, a heroine whose amputated leg is replaced by a functioning machine-gun and buckets of blood. Between the this and Tarantino’s Death Proof were a few faux-trailers that fans immediately began hoping would really be made into movies. One of those trailers was Machete. At least in this instance, fans get their wish.

Machete (Trejo) is the name of both our hero and his weapon of choice. He’s a Mexican Federale on his way to rescue an apparent kidnapping victim from druglord Torrez (Seagal). Long story short: it doesn’t quite work out for the good guy. His whole family ends up dead, along with his partner. He himself is left for dead in a burning house. It should hardly be a surprise he manages to escape. The movie knows this is too easy and doesn’t even bother showing it to us. We just jump into the opening credits and theme song, after which we switch locations from Mexico to Texas.

Once in Texas, we find the immigration debate is on steroids. Senator John McLaughlin (De Niro) is so anti-immigration, he and his cronies literally hunt Mexicans under the cover of night. Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) runs a taco stand that’s really a front for “The Network”, a modern-day underground railroad for Mexicans trying to cross the border into the States. Then there’s Machete. He’s been moseying along as a day-laborer but suddenly finds himself hired to kill the senator. After some double crossings, which the senator survives, Machete has to go on the run from the American law, try to clear his name and bring the real bad guys to justice.

As expected, a healthy dose of graphic and over the top violence keeps our inner-sadists sated. This includes beheadings, impalings and even a crucifixion. There’s also enough nudity to live up to the exploitation flicks to which Machete owes its existence. It basks in the light of outrageous, testosterone driven fun.

Those things alone would make it worthy of a look. However, it adds something extra. It gives us really sharp social commentary through satire. The immigration issue is front and center. However, it also riffs on internet culture, celebrity culture, our obsession with technology and even the clergy. Between the action scenes, there are plenty of laughs to be had.

The cast aids immensely in our enjoyment. For the most part, they play it straight. It’s as if they’re unaware how ridiculously exaggerated this all is and it works perfectly. In the lead, Danny Trejo is deadpan but awesome. A surprisingly good Steven Seagal and surprisingly creepy Don Johnson steal all of their scenes, not to mention the incomparable Cheech Marin. Even Jessica Alba is solid. My one minor complaint is with one of my all time faves, Robert De Niro. He actually turns in a fine performance. He’s the one person who doesn’t quite play it straight and is at his campy best. This actually fits the character and the movie. For some reason though, I just felt like this should’ve been William Shatner’s role. In no way am I suggesting Shatner is a better actor than De Niro. I’m only saying that, in my humble opinion, the senator seems to perfectly fit Shatner’s abilities.

If you’re a fan of Rodriguez’s work and have some understanding of what you might be getting into, you’ll have a blast. The key here is that although nothing that actually happens is to be taken seriously, the movie’s message is. Of course, if you’re one of the hardliners who support what the government is doing in Arizona and think Mexicans are stealing “our” jobs, this might piss you off. If you’re not, or you at least have a sense of humor, it’ll be a fun ride. As for me, I’m anxiously awaiting the sequels we’re promised at the end of the movie: Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again. Please Mr. Rodriguez, make it happen.

MY SCORE: 9/10

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