Sunday, June 12, 2011

MACHETE


Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, 2010
Starring: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez

I'm the first to admit that the fake trailer sequences at the beginning of Grindhouse were fantastic: Machete, Werewolf Women of the SS, Thanksgiving, etc. They were love notes to fans of Grindhouse cinema who grew up used to outrageously stupid movies with trailers better than the films themselves could ever hope to be. Machete, unfortunately, falls in with this standard. Sure, it's entertaining and bloody, filled with decapitations, gun fights and scantily clad babes. But it also didn't live up to my expectations, thanks to a weak plot and some very dubious acting.

Machete is worth a look for action fans, preferably if friends and alcohol are involved. It charts the career of Machete (Danny Trejo), an ex-Federale agent who was betrayed and almost killed by a Mexican drug lord (the thoroughly non-Mexican Steven Seagal) and goes renegade. He becomes, ironically, an illegal immigrant in the US and a day laborer. He is hired by businessman Booth (Jeff Fahey) to kill a Texas Senator (Robert De Niro) obsessed with legally banning and privately killing Mexican immigrants. Machete accepts, feeling like he has no other option, and is double-crossed by Booth, who wanted the Senator's attacked captured on film to ensure re-election.

Machete, now on the run, turns to his brother, a local priest and ex-Federale (Cheech Marin) for help, along with taco lady/leader of the immigrant network (Michelle Rodriguez) called She. He also gets apprehended by an overly ambitious immigration agent, Sartana (Jessica Alba), a Mexican American who gets the hots for him and begins to see the value of doing what's "right." Eventually they band together to take on the Senator and his troop of gun totin' rednecks (led by a delightful Don Johnson).

Machete was Danny Trejo's first leading role and, while I'm usually delighted to see him, I think it might have been a little too much screen time. Whether the role was criminally under-written or under-acted remains to be seen, but the performance lacks the usual humor and menace of his absolute boatload of side roles.

Most of the supporting characters are solid and it's clear they're all having a great time. De Niro is a welcome addition as the sleazy Senator and he obviously had a good time with the role. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Jessica Alba. Rodriguez seems to be able to get truly enjoyable performances out of her, though his casting director needs to get her a better wig. My two primary complaints are that Michelle Rodriguez is criminally underused -- she was excellent -- and Steven Seagal was just... ridiculous. Seagal, who purportedly declined a role in The Expendables due to its stupidity, is easily the stupidest part of Machete. He's supposed to be a Mexican drug lord/ex-Federale who wears horrendous, baggy pajama ensembles, carries a katana for no good reason, and isn't so much in the "so bad it's good" category as he is just bad. Other side roles form Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, Jeff Fahey, Tom Savini, and even Lindsey Lohan were all welcome additions to the film. Lohan in particular is fun to watch as she gleefully makes fun of herself and lets Rodriguez mock American exploitative sensibilities.

The violence and effects are successful and the ladies are strong and sexy. It's a shame that the plot is ridiculous, but just not ridiculous enough. Unlike Planet Terror, which is completely insane and gleefully devoid of logical sense, Machete has too many plot holes and dull moments to really be counted as an action/exploitation masterpiece. Written, directed, and produced by Rodriguez, Machete was interestingly co-directed by Rodriguez's long time editor Maniquis. It's hard to tell what Maniquis really brings to the table as a director, because I think this is Rodriguez's weakest work in recent memory.

When it comes down to it, I would recommend Sin City, Planet Terror, or Once Upon a Time in Mexico well before Machete. It is obvious that everyone is having a great time, which could be infectious in the right viewing circumstances, and, as I said, will likely be fun with a few beers and the right crowd. Check out the single disc DVD from Fox.

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