Guns! Explosions! Nudity! Social commentary about the flaws in the immigration system and the complex political realities that result for a disenfranchised segment of the American population! Motorcycles! “Machete” has it all.
When director Robert Rodriguez joined forces in 2007 with Quentin Tarantino to make “Grindhouse,” the double-feature love letter to exploitation cinema, the whole thing kicked off with the perfect mood-setter, an outrageous trailer for a then-fake movie called “Machete.”
The three-minute clip featured the character Machete as played by Danny Trejo, who for my money is the scariest-looking actor to get regular work in motion-picture history. If you saw Trejo drinking by himself at a bar, you would go to a different bar.
In the trailer we learn Machete is a former Federale who finds himself in America being hired by a sleazy businessman (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate a state senator, only to be double-crossed and left for dead. From what we are able to glean from a series of gloriously ridiculous clips, Machete then goes on a revenge bender while the voiceover narration delivers lines such as “If you’re going to hire Machete to kill the bad guy, you’d better make damn sure that the bad guy isn’t YOU!”
This stuff is pure kibble to fans of lovingly crafted trashy movies like myself. Rodriguez must have figured he was on to something too because not three years later he has donned the writer/director hat for a feature-length “Machete” that is able to deliver on all of the ludicrous promises made in that now-famous trailer.
This flick is a whole lot of fun, thanks primarily to the action-set pieces and ultraviolence that is so sensationalistic and cartoony it makes Itchy and Scratchy from “The Simpsons” seem restrained by comparison.
The rest of the cast has been rounded out by some names you might recognize. Robert DeNiro plays the targeted, immigrant-hating politician. Don Johnson shows up as the head of a vigilante group of rednecks who patrol the U.S./Mexico border. Steven Segal is also rescued from mothballs as the evil head of a Mexican drug cartel. Not since Charlton Heston played a Mexican in “Touch of Evil” has someone been so strangely, yet effectively racially miscast.
There is also a collection of fine, foxy ladies to ogle, including Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan, although Lohan’s role as a drugged-out rich girl hits so close to home it’s more sad than anything else.
Clearly Rodriguez’s intent with “Machete,” aside from blowing a lot of stuff up, is to give the Mexican-immigrant population a shot of self esteem. This is a group of people vilified and exploited from both sides of the border simply for wanting to make a better life for themselves. How cathartic to see a Mexican in America kicking some butt instead of mowing your lawn, washing your dishes or fixing your roof.
But don’t worry, Rodriguez and his longtime editor-turned-co-director Ethan Maniquis are much more interested in having fun than being political. They readily acknowledge that there is no simple solution to the problem as the movie seems to be more of a reflection of the anger and frustration over a broken immigration system that no one seems willing to fix.
It would be easy to accuse Rodriguez and Maniquis of being sloppy by attempting to mix a message in with all the bloody silliness, but I think that would be missing the point. “Machete” is a movie where a bunch of people are having a blast playing in the cinematic sandbox and are just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks.
Because of the uberviolence and adventurous filmmaking, I really can’t in good conscience recommend this movie to anybody. But for those out there who share a demented sense of humor and an open mind, it just might be the most fun you have at the movies all year.