A former Mexican Federale is lured into a hit job on an American Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) with the news that the corrupt politician is planning on sending thousands of Mexicans out of the country, but on the day he aims his weapon, he realizes one is aimed at him. The guy who hired him will soon learn that one never sets up "Machete."
Cowriter (with brother Álvaro)/codirector Robert Rodriguez (with "Grindhouse editor Ethan Maniquis in his debut) throws everything but the mariachi band into this back-to-his "Desperado" roots drive-in genre movie. It's got violence galore, some of it wince-inducing, some of it laugh out loud funny (I'm expecting some editing changes for a director's cut DVD that will pile it on even heavier). It's got nurses in hot uniforms. It's got explosions, eye patches and I.C.E-y brunettes (that's the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer played by Jessica Alba). Perhaps most surprising is that Rodriguez has done for Robert DeNiro what his frequent collaborator Quentin Tarrantino has done for many far lesser stars - given him a boost by letting him get his coolness quotient back on, here as a corrupt Texan senator stumping on taking over the top actions against illegal immigrants.
Yes, underneath all the bloodletting and boob baring (Machete has a mother/daughter paring with Lindsay Lohan and the "Machete" trailer's Alicia Marek!), "Machete" is something of a message movie. Booth's home security team actually ruminate about such things as how people allow any Mexican bearing garden tools into their homes (oops!) and how Mexicans clean our homes, care for our kids, park our cars but are not allowed into our country.
Booth ("Lost's" Jeff Fahey) is managing McLaughlin's campaign with funding from Mexican drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal) and cooperation from a vigilante businessman (Don Johnson, TV's "Miami Vice") who shoots border crossers to kill. The plan is to control the border with an electrified fence that will keep Mexicans out and only allow Torrez's drugs in. But Booth's idea to gain more votes for McLaughlin by having an illegal Mexican attempt to assassinate him backfires. Machete (Danny Trejo) isn't just the day laborer Booth thinks he is and he quickly connects with 'The network' of underground illegals run by taco truck vendor Luz ("Lost's" Michelle Rodriguez, "Fast & Furious") as well as Alba's initially unsympathetic cop. A reporter from a Telemundo clone helps them reveal evidence against the bad guys. Then it's all out war between the network and the vigilantes with the senator held hostage somewhere in the middle.
Rodriguez does a great job balancing his fairly intricate exposition with his action without ever letting go of his beloved genre tropes. As per his name (Trejo has a filmography full of character names referring to blades of one type or other), Machete wields not only machetes, but skull scrapers, nail guns and, of course, various gardening tools. His brother happens to be a Padre (Cheech Marin, "The Perfect Game") with his own agenda who extends the director's penchant for cathedrals and Catholic symbolism. Lindsay Lohan's been released from prison and rehab just in time to be featured as Booth's daughter April, a junkie who gets rescued from Mexican drug labs when she's not making web porn with mom and the Mexican gardener.
Unfortunately, the writer/director lets go of his reins a bit for his climatic racial war, where he throws in everything but the kitchen sink including a hara kiri and Lohan in a nun's outfit. Even so, more of it works than not. What's not to like about muscle cars so jacked, their front ends bounce the bad guys to death and an ambulance which dispenses automatic weapon bearing nurses? The film has an aged look, although nothing as radical as used in "Grindhouse." Same goes for music, where cheesy 70's sounds are more grace note than soundtrack. Maybe that's because Rodriguez clearly sets his film in the present. "Machete don't text," you know.
Anyone who thought the "Machete" trailer was the high point of "Grindhouse" is sure to enjoy the film. It's much tighter than I expected, at least until it hits that final free for all. Put it on a drive-in double feature with "The Expendables" and Steven Seagal can almost hang with the big guys. And, of course, the end promises both "Machete Kills" AND "Machete Kills Again" in wonderfully kitschy graphics.
“Machete” is the film that should have been made by Robert Rodriguez for his entry in 2007’s “Grindhouse.” Danny Trejo IS the title character in this comic book spoof that is wall to wall action, violence, conspiracy and Machete’s heroics to see justice done. This is a low-brow film with lofty messages about the nobility of man and if the law is unjust then justice must prevail.
Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis bring a fast paced, extremely violent (though not overtly gory) story and starts of with a bang and keeps on banging to the big battle finale between good and bad. “Machete” has many laugh out moments as Rodriguez and co-writer Alvaro Rodriguez give flesh and blood to what could have been mere two-dimensional characters.
Danny Trejo owns the role of Machete and will undoubtedly star in the two sequels promised at the end of the film just before the credits roll. The supporting cast is far better than it has a right to be with Robert DeNiro as corrupt Texas state senator McLaughlin who uses the illegal immigrant issue as his platform to get re-elected; Jeff Fahey is his campaign manager who is controlled by Mexican drug lord, Torrez (Steven Seagal); Santana (Jessica Alba) is a Federal Immigration agent who is trying to do right for her kinsmen from Mexico; Michelle Rodriguez, as Luz, runs a taco wagon near the Mexican border and may be the leader, She, of The Network. You also get Don Johnson as a vigilante leader working for McLaughlin and Cheech Marin as Machete’s brother, a shot-gun toting priest.
You know you can trust four people in “Machete” – himself, Santana, Luz and Cheech’s Padre. Everyone else who is not an immigrant, legal or illegal, is not to be trusted and shot or, in Machete’s case, stabbed with a really big…you guess. The mayhem is choreographed with an expert eye and the action jumps off of the screen. I give it a B+.
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