REVIEW: Machete [2010]

“No amnesty for parasites”

What better way to go political and make a statement about American border patrol vigilantes, corrupt State Senators, and the plight of the illegal alien doing whatever it takes for a chance at freedom from tyranny and squalor than with a Grindhouse-esque, exploitation flick? Robert Rodriguez, co-writer Álvaro Rodriguez, and co-director Ethan Maniquis don’t think there is one, so they expanded Robert’s faux-trailer meant to titillate and excite the adrenal glands for high-octane action into the feature length Machete. Reusing footage and fleshing out the story, the legend of an ex-Federale becomes a reality as the titular hero arrives in America three years after drug czar Torrez murdered his wife and daughter. Just looking to keep a low profile and live the rest of his life, Machete becomes embroiled in an assassination conspiracy, allotting him the cash to give back and help the network of smugglers who brought him across the border, and in turn join their fight against the American oppressors. Hell, without Mexicans—as the film shows in an intricate telephone game—we’d have no laborers and the state of Texas might in fact collapse.

Possibly the best aspect of the whole endeavor is that the character itself was created for a children’s film. The uncle of the Spy Kids, Machete Cortez was played by badass ex-con Danny Trejo as a kind-hearted inventor to help the children fight evil and recover their kidnapped parents. Rodriguez and pal Quentin Tarantino love to reutilize characters i to create some semblance of a complete world for which they all exist, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that because an actor plays a role in multiple works, he is the same person in each. Maybe this film is a precursor to the Kids franchise, or maybe it could be seen as the fantasy world of an inventor who always wanted to have a backstory of grit, violence, and sexuality to match his physique, tattoos, and craggy face. Either way, the Machete running wild in Texas this time around is the kind of antihero you can love. A true gentleman with a code of conduct befitting a man of the law, he has no bend, let alone breaking point, and is out for revenge on those who wronged him. Not one for senseless violence, he’ll injure and maim, but never kill anyone who doesn’t deserve it. Steven Seagal’s Torrez is the lone, true target.

If I had one gripe, it is that the film stock is too pristine for the schlock portrayed. A six-minute, adrenaline pounding, disorienting look into Machete’s past sets the stage with blood, dismembered limbs, gratuitous nudity, overtly-stern acting, and a visual aesthetic recalling a master copy that has been beaten to a pulp and somehow lived to survive a film reel’s rotation. This was the trailer fans begged to see more of, an introduction to the no-holds-barred violence to come. But after being graphically bombarded with the title sequence, it was as though we entered a new style. Still gritty and grainy, the film stock was free from scratches or other visible injuries, somewhat taking me aback. Luckily, however, the content was unaltered once we’re shown Jessica Alba’s hard-boiled ICE agent Rivera spying on the supposed revolutionary Shé’s alter-ego Luz, Michelle Rodriguez’s taco truck owner. The seriousness of the dialogue delivery and tension of the cinematography becomes almost too much to bear without laughter. But, Trejo soon arrives and has his fighting prowess, while eating a burrito, is noticed by the intense Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), peering from a cracked limo window. It’s a look that starts the whole thing in motion.

The web of deception unravels as we catch glimpses of Shé’s network of workers/fighters doing whatever’s necessary to keep a line open for Mexicans to join them on free soil; the corruption of Senator McLaughlin’s campaign to keep America’s purity intact, (Robert De Niro does not go in and out of his accent, boys and girls, he in fact isn’t from Texas, therefore only keeps the drawl when faced by the public); and the connection of Torrez with the Senator, his aide Booth, and the border vigilante Von Jackson, (an ‘introducing’ title at the start for Don Johnson is a brilliant touch). Machete finds himself in the middle of it all as the police are after him, the political conspirators want him framed as a Mexican monster, and the revolution hopes to enlist him as the missing leader to rally around. A living legend—who seriously can’t be killed as bullets and blades merely wound no matter the distance inflicted from—he can win over anyone fighting for good, getting those he meets to join his cause without them even knowing it. His natural lack of charisma, a stoic stare forever etched into his face, is no comparison to the machismo he exudes with fearlessness and an unflinching ability to kill.

Not one to prop itself on its plot, Machete is more about what happens inside the overall scope. There are enough action tropes to satisfy a person’s desire for coherence—all the bad guys are connected, ‘right’ trumps the ‘law’, and video evidence is acquired to make the all-out war to come justified—but, in the end, this is a genre flick, using blood and sex to sell tickets. It’s also so tongue-in-cheek, that you can’t fault any of the acting since the bad can be dismissed as an aesthetic choice. There are weaknesses—Lindsay Lohan’s April Booth an obvious one since only there for sex appeal and nudity, yet using a body double for just that—but the cheesiness adds one more layer to the fun. Include some more blatant humor, such as Spy Kids alum Daryl Sabara as the adopted pendejo Julio and Trejo’s own son Gilbert as an artist, sketching as bullets fly all around him, and there really isn’t anything to dislike. I will admit that my favorite piece of the puzzle is Seagal’s Spanish accent, cool and calm demeanor with a samurai sword, and creepy laughter at carnage. Culminating in one of the most awkward death scenes I’ve seen, my only disappointment is that he may not ‘return’ in Machete Kills or Machete Kills Again. I’ll still be buying tickets though.

Machete 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] Danny Trejo star as Machete in action thriller ‘Machete’ Copyright © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
[2] Jeff Fahey as Michael Benz and Robert De Niro as Senator McLaughlin in the scene of ‘Machete’ Copyright © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
[3] Steven Seagal stars as Torrez in 20th Century Fox’s Machete (2010)

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