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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MACHETE (2010)

"Exploding houses? Bodies falling from the sky? Jesus Christ, Machete! You're a walking shit magnet!"
-Santana Rivera (Jessica Alba)

Sometimes you just have to check your brain at the door and enjoy an out of control roller coaster ride of a movie, and that's certainly the case with Robert Rodriguez's balls-to-the-walls non-stop actioner, MACHETE. And the true beauty of it is that it doesn't take itself seriously for even two seconds.

MACHETE sprang from a fake trailer that preceded the PLANET TERROR half of 2007's GRINDHOUSE (the most fun I had at a movie that year), a coming attraction that really made the viewer want to see the flick in question. Judge for yourself:

Audience reaction was strong and favorable, so Rodriguez actually rendered it into feature length, utilizing some of the footage from the trailer and spinning a wild, gore-drenched "Mexploitation" flick that's a delight for old school aficionados of 42nd Street-style fare and the uninitiated alike. (I took my girlfriend to see it, a woman who had somehow managed never to see an exploitation film before, and she loved it.)

Our hero.

MACHETE stars my man Danny Trejo as the title character, a completely badassed Mexican federale who dishes out evisceration and dismemberment like Halloween candy. Following a bloody encounter with vicious drug lord Torrez (StevenSeagal ), who's pissed at Machete not allowing himself to be paid off to look the other way, Machete's wife and daughter are killed and a seriously injured Machete is left to die, presumed burned alive when the bad guys torch the house. Skip ahead by three years and we find the grizzled badass eking out a living as a low-paid day laborer near the Texas border, blending in as just another illegal immigrant.

Don Johnson at his most villainous.

It's a bleak existence marked by hatred for illegals, an animosity personified by the likes of vigilante sheriff Von Jackson (Don Johnson) and his pack of redneck scum who patrol the border an kill wetbacks, an activity they lovingly capture on video.

A scenery-chewing Bobby D as the loathsome Senator John McLaughlin.

Also along for the murderous ride with those assholes is Senator John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro in a scenery-chewing turn), a politician who's up for re-election and riding a campaign platform based on stringent anti-immigration policies while secretly being funded by drug lord Torrez. From out of nowhere, Machete is approached by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey ), a businessman who claims to feel that the Senator's point of view fails to realize that the country, and more immediately the state, runs on illegal labor and cutting that off would fuck things up bigtime.

Machete takes aim, only to find himself royally screwed.

Booth offers Machete $150, 000 to assassinate McLaughlin during an outdoor political rally and Machete accepts, unaware that he's being set up himself; Booth has one of his own men shoot Machete as Machete wings McLaughlin in the leg, intending for the whole thing to be witnessed by the media and made to look like a conspiracy to stop the senator, thus garnering sympathy votes. Unfortunately for Booth's plans, Machete does not die easily, and once he susses out what's up, a hardcore odyssey of gory vengeance begins. That bloody trail also brings Machete into contact with two beautiful sides of the immigration issue:Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Santana Rivera (Jessica Alba) and work site taco truck proprietress Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who is actually the head of a network that smuggles illegals into the country. With all the pieces in place on the chessboard of hate and retribution, all hell breaks loose and it soon becomes hard to distinguish between splattering sanguinary spew and salsa picante.

MACHETE is packed to the rafters with crazy, ultra-violent set pieces, some amusingly heavy-handed political commentary, and a cornucopia of tongue-in-cheek exploitation movie fun. In fact, if it were up to me I would classify this film as a completely straight-faced action comedy, and a very funny one at that.

Assorted notes and observations:
  • At age 66, the leathery Danny Trejo makes for a grizzled and Charles Bronson-like protagonist, a man of few words and positively lethal badassery, and I hope to see more from him as Machete (which may happen if Rodriguez is serious about making two sequels).
  • We get the welcome return of the toothsome Avellan sister, Elise and Elektra, aka "the babysitter Twins" from PLANET TERROR (who also happen to be the director's nieces).
Robert, give these gals a movie of their own while they're still hot, for fuck's sake!
  • Lindsay Lohan appears in the role she was born to play, namely a drug-addicted, spoiled rich kid who gets into a lurid threesome with her mother and Machete before having a change of heart and becoming a vengeful, gun-toting badass in a nun's habit.
Lilo's best role next to MEAN GIRLS.
  • Steven Seagal's sadistic and assholish Torrez is a fun bad guy with plastic hair like something out of the Devo merchandise catalog, circa 1981, and he's a scary antagonist in many ways. It's a hoot to see Seagal ditch his good guy badass image to essay a bad guy badass, one who used to be a fellow federale with Machete, so you just know the guy's beyond deadly.
Torrez (Steven Seagal), living the pimp life.
  • Also on hand is the the always welcome Cheech Marin as Machete's brother, a priest whose line "God has mercy...I don't" pretty much defines his role.
Cheech: a long way from his days with Tommy Chong.

To sum up, MACHETE is the kind of film whose enjoyment factor is contingent upon the kinds of films the viewer digs. If you love old school exploitation excess, ultra-violence, gratuitous nudity and general mayhem, this film is right up your alley. If your taste runs toward Merchant Ivory films of genteel ruminations on the human condition, this ain't for you. Ya pussy.

Machete and his army of kickass day laborers!

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