Machete review

We've been anticipating it all summer. But does Danny Trejo as Machete deliver the goods? Ron's been finding out...

When an honest Mexican federale (or federal agent) code-named Machete (Danny Trejo) is double-crossed by his bosses and delivered over to the evil drug lord Torres (a wonderfully malicious Steven Seagal), everything Machete’s ever loved is killed right in front of him. His wife? Beheaded. His daughter, also presumably killed. Machete himself is stabbed and left for dead in a burning building.

Little did they know, what doesn’t kill him only makes him kill you at a later date.

Three years later, Machete resurfaces in America. An illegal immigrant, Machete does the work that pretty much every other illegal in America does: the nasty, hot, and/or difficult stuff that most people who have a choice won’t do, save for entirely too much money. Machete’s just another day laborer, except he’s a day laborer who knows how to kill people and who looks like he’s carved from a block made of equal parts granite and hate.

That’s what catches the eye of Booth (Jeff Fahey), who has a proposition. Machete shoots anti-illegal immigration Texas State Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) in exchange for $150,000 or Machete gets killed by Booth’s nameless sidekick (Shea Whigham).

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As it turns out, it’s another set-up, this time to get the Senator re-elected by faking an assassination attempt. Machete’s the patsy, but Machete has friends. Friends with weapons, like Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and her underground network of illegal-aiding do-gooders. In the words, or rather the text message of Machete: they fucked with the wrong Mexican.

This is the movie Danny Trejo should’ve made 30 years ago when he was doing bit parts and working as a drug counselor. Not that he’s not a great bit player, but he’s good enough and has charisma enough (and perhaps most importantly, has the look) to be a serious action movie bad ass. Taciturn, tough as nails, and with an impressive mustache, he’s like a Mexican Charles Bronson. He says little, but kills much.

The heavy lifting, in terms of speaking, belongs to Jeff Fahey’s Booth, who is deliciously evil and amoral. Generally, everyone in the movie seems to be cast very well, from Lindsay Lohan as Booth’s drugged-out daughter to Don Johnson’s backwoods redneck law enforcement officer.

This is undoubtedly a labor of love for Robert Rodriguez, who co-directed (with longtime editor Ethan Maniquis) and co-wrote the script (with Alvaro Rodriguez). Machete is his political world view, his Mexican action hero, and very much his take on exploitation films, and the care he took to craft every gore shot, every set piece, and every transition is obvious, and it’s one of the reason why the film works so very well at what it’s trying to be.

Yes, the polemics are a bit heavy-handed at times, but it’s something that won’t really turn off viewers, because it’s going to lead up to another awesome action scene. While it has some serious things it wants to say, it’s hard to take seriously.

Machete is not a film for everyone. That much is sure from the opening credits, before which the movie has already racked up a serious body count and seen some heinously wonderful violence. However, when enjoyed via the mirror of a classic 70s blaxploitation movie (think Mexploitation) or a classic cheesy 80s action movie (think maximum body count), Machete is a treat for all ages, provided those ages appreciate splattering blood, hilarious use of entrails, pointlessly topless or naked women, and of course, general badassery.

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Machete is a movie with a political statement at its heart. While it’s fairly overt in its desire for open borders between the United States and Mexico, that message is, fortunately, delivered in an over-the-top, almost goofy comic book style that should make it either palatable or easily ignored for those who enjoy genre films. Then again, perhaps I’m a bit jaded, as I’ve seen more blaxploitation movies than the average white filmgoer who isn’t Quentin Tarantino, and I’ve seen every ‘whitey is bad’ message that can be delivered in 35mm format.

Machete is much more fun than it is message. It’s an action movie, and it’s glorious. Completely over the top, impossible to examine closely, and spectacularly entertaining.

US correspondent Ron Hogan will never take Mexican lunch trucks for granted again, despite being white. Those delicious tacos cross all racial barriers. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.


4 out of 5