Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Movie Review: Machete

Machete ***
Directed by:
Robert Rodriguez & Ethan Maniquis.
Written By: Robert Rodriguez & Álvaro Rodríguez.
Starring: Danny Trejo (Machete), Robert De Niro (Senator McLaughlin), Jessica Alba (Sartana), Steven Seagal (Torrez), Michelle Rodriguez (Luz), Jeff Fahey (Booth), Cheech Marin (Padr), Don Johnson (Lt. Stillman), Shea Whigham (Sniper), Lindsay Lohan (April), Daryl Sabara (Julio).

Some people never really grow up. I think Robert Rodriguez is one of those people. He made his debut film, El Mariachi way back in 1992 and the only thing that has really changed in the 18 years since then is that he now has more money to make his movies. Unlike his friend and fellow class of ’92 director Quentin Tarantino, he has never really grown as a filmmaker - he has fun making his tribute to the B movies of the past. Not that there is anything wrong with that - because Rodriguez does that better than just about anyone else.

His latest film is Machete, which is based on the trailer he made when he teamed up with Tarantino to make Grindhouse. It stars Danny Trejo as a Mexican Federale whose family is killed in front of him by the evil drug kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal). A year later, he is living in Texas illegally and works as a day laborer. He is approached by Booth (Jeff Fahey) with a job offer. He will get $150,000 if he assassinates State Senator McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro), a racist, anti-immigration man who wants to build an electrified fence across the border. Machete agrees, gives to the money to Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who runs something called the Network, which helps Mexicans cross the border and start a new life together. But he is double crossed, the assassination botched and he becomes the most wanted man in Texas. Immigration officer Sartana (Jessica Alba) tracks him down, but believes his story, and instead of bringing him in, decides to help him. His revelations have far reaching implications as it reveals a huge conspiracy.

Much like Grindhouse, Machete plays well as a tongue and cheek parody of the exploitation films of the 1960s and 70s. The film is extremely violent - from its opening action sequence where Machete goes on a solo mission after Torrez and ends up hacking about a dozen people with his machete - complete with limbs and heads flying all over the place, and torrents of blood splattering the walls all over the place. Rodriguez is wonderful at staging these scenes of ultra violence - and considering that there are rarely 5 minutes in a row without one of these scenes, the movie remains entertaining throughout. Another thing that helps is the performances. Danny Trejo has been in pretty much every Rodriguez movie in a supporting role, but given the lead here, he does precisely what he is asked to do. He isn’t going to win an Oscar for it or anything, but he has the right style for this role. He doesn’t take it seriously, yet he has a perfect deadpan style that makes his lines hilarious. Yet he isn’t half as good as Robert DeNiro who is pretty much perfect as he goes completely over the top as the Senator with the put on Texas accent and swagger. DeNiro has often phoned in his performances in the last decade, and while this certainly isn’t going to let him regain any of his prestige, he certainly does seem to give it his all in this film. The rest of the cast is fine - Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez both play tough, sexy women, and do their job fine, Lindsay Lohan is pretty damn good as a slut who for reasons I will allow you to discover ends up packing a gun and dressed as a nun, and Don Johnson as a vigilante who has taken it upon himself to patrol the border is fine as well. Acting in a movie like this has to be kind of difficult, because you have to both be in on the joke, but not go too far with it. The cast here strikes a fine balance between those two extremes.

Machete isn’t a great movie. It is trash, pure and simple. But it is a movie that knows it is trash, and wants to be nothing more than that. There is something refreshing about that. When I watched Grindhouse, I enjoyed Rodriguez’s segment, Planet Terror, while it was playing, but after Tarantino’s Death Proof started, the Rodriguez film went out of my memory. Here, not teamed up with Tarantino, it allows Machete to breathe a little more. While Rodriguez will probably never be the filmmaker people thought he could be when he made his debut, I think he’s okay with that. And as long as he continues to make films as entertaining as Machete, so I am I.

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