Machete, the new film co-written, produced and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, is not your typical action movie, and if you are not prepared, it will be a hard smack in the face that will leave you speechless throughout the two-hour ordeal. It has all the major cornerstones of a great action film: death, betrayal, sex and violence (all within the first 10 minutes.) The movie is actually an expansion of a faux trailer released with Rodriguez’ previous film, Grindhouse (2007), a composite two-film feature co-written by Quentin Tarantino. Cleverly, Machete uses much of the same footage from Grindhouse’s trailer.
If you have seen Grindhouse, or even one of the two films that comprises the final product, Planet Terror and Death Proof, then you already have an idea of this movie’s style. An unabashed tribute to B-rated thrillers, Machete glorifies past exploitation films with unnecessary levels of violence and sprinkles of sexuality that made “grindhouse” theaters so popular in their day. For those who have yet to see an exploitation film, or for that matter, any Rodriguez or Tarintino film, then this may be as good a start as any. The violence, though traditionally gratuitous, is much more comical in this film than Grindhouse’s representation. That is not to say, though, that it is for the squeamish. On the contrary, if one does not have the stomach or sheer patience to sit through a two-hour blood bath, this film may not be for you.
Fortunately, the movie’s violence does not preclude it from a substantive plot, the one thing that really takes this movie from one paradigm to the next. The main character, Machete (Danny Trejo), is an ex-Federal agent who has fled to Texas after clashing with Torrez (Steven Seagal—yes … you read right), a Mexican drug kingpin who owns every politician on both sides of the border. One of these politicians is McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), a Texas senator who campaigns on a rabid anti-immigration platform that would make even the most rabid Tea Partier’s squirm in their seats. Hired to assassinate McLaughlin by his corrupt right-hand man, Booth (Jeff Fahey), Machete is unknowingly set up as the patsy, forced to run while plotting revenge against his conspirators with the help of a group called The Network, an organization that helps Mexicans get across the border to find work, homes, and sustain a new life in the United States. Its leader, She (an obvious reference to Che Guevara, even pronounced like it), known to those close to her as Luz (Michelle Rodriguez, no relation to the director),repays these services in times of need. Their organization, though, has found its job becoming increasingly more difficult with a group of xenophobic vigilantes (known by the same name) lead by Von (Don Johnson). Their goal is to prevent Mexicans from entering the United States by any means necessary. The only American who seems to have much of a conscious is Sartana (Jessica Alba), a hardnosed ICE agent who starts to question the laws that she has sworn to uphold, seeing what they are doing to her brother and sisters. This all culminates in one big scene where bullets fly and everything is thrown on the table.
This film also includes cameos by Cheech Marin, a priest named Padre (Machete’s brother), and Lindsay Lohan as April, the rich, drug-abusing daughter of Booth, who by the end, gets involved in the action as well. This film has many things to offer its audience: a starstudded cast, a high-octane script and a substantive commentary on immigration without the dogmatism that consumes the media. Audiences who enjoyed Grindhouse will definitely know what to expect, yet it may not live up to all your expectations. Others who have never seen a work of this, um, caliber, might want to hear about it from their friends first, or at least mentally prepare themselves for what they are about to see. The best thing about this film, though, is that it never takes itself too seriously. It pays homage to the genre of B-movies and exploitation films alike, lovingly mocking them as well. Despite its quick one-liners, the surprisingly hilarious Machete is not going to be the next great satire with a message that will change the hearts and minds of millions. But, that is not what it aims to be. In the end, viewers are given an entertaining film that has a whole host of things coming at you, and to try and take too much meaning from the film is quite comical in its own right. It is best to just take the film as is: a not-so-mindless, actionpacked experience that is a little smarter than most films you see on the screen these days. And I say there is nothing wrong with that at all.