Screen Rant's Vic Holtreman reviews Machete
Ever since the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double feature Grindhouse was released back in 2007, fans have been clamoring for a full movie version of one of the fake trailers that appeared with two films. That trailer was for a movie called Machete, starring Danny Trejo - an exploitation-style film in the genre of those from the early 1970s. It had guns, bloody violence, betrayal, and naked women - all shot in a grainy, film-scratched style.
Since this was a project that has been brewing in director Rodriguez' mind for a very long time (dating earlier than the 2007 trailer), the fan-based push nudged him to create the feature length version of the trailer. Now depending on your point of view, the timing for the release of this film is either very bad or very good. With the illegal immigration debate raging hot and heavy right now, this film will probably benefit from its controversy and outrageousness.
If you're into this sort of thing, the movie opens rather promisingly. We're introduced to Machete (Danny Trejo) and his partner - they're "Federales" in Mexico, fighting the good fight against the local drug kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal - yes, THAT Steven Seagal). Just as things seem to be going well for Machete, they take a turn for the worse - as bad as you can get if you're a family man.
Everything about the above scenes screams cheesy, found-footage exploitation flick: The camera angles, color saturation, film scratches, decapitations, blood, naked woman, you name it. At this point I figured we were in for a real retro-treat.
Early scene spoiler alert
However from there we cut to a scene with a number of Mexicans crossing the border illegally that is incredibly outrageous (not in a good way) and brutal. A man and his very pregnant wife are stopped by a group of vigilantes in uniform (led by Don Johnson) and the senator. The senator guns down the pregnant woman in cold blood, then turns to her husband, says "Welcome to America" and shoots him dead.
Depending on your point of view you'll either be outraged at the thinly veiled implications; you may shake your head "knowingly" imagining this is the way things are at the border; or you'll say "Dude, whatever, it's just a freaking movie." Me? I was outraged - but it turns out that this film is so stupidly ridiculous that it really doesn't make sense to get angry at it.
So cut to three years later and Machete is a day laborer in Austin, Texas. He hangs around looking for work near a food truck run by Luz (Michelle Rodriguez). Soon he's picked up by a slick businessman type (a man named Booth, played by Jeff Fahey) who hires him (reluctantly) to assassinate a state senator (Robert DeNiro) who's anti-illegal-immigration stance will be "bad for business."
Machete ends up being the pawn in a plot to actually ensure that the senator is re-elected and he's on the run - but of course he vows to get revenge.
From here the film consists of Machete trying to stay one step ahead of the goons who are coming after him. Along the way he's helped by Luz, and eventually by Sartana (Jessica Alba), an immigration enforcement agent who has a change of heart by the end of the film - and in the end (of course) those terrible, evil oppressors get their due.
Where does Machete deliver? LOTS of bloody violence, mainly the result of limbs and heads being severed by our intrepid anti-hero. And faithful to those old 70s flicks, they don't skimp on the female nudity, including a topless Lindsay Lohan (who essentially plays herself in the film - a wealthy, directionless, drug-addicted internet celebrity) and a quick scene with a nude Jessica Alba (shot creatively, so the naughty bits are out of site). Danny Trejo looks like a guy who you just wouldn't want to mess with in real life, and I liked Jeff Fahey's dead serious performance.
I got a kick out of seeing Steven Seagal, but what an odd casting choice for a Mexican drug lord... he's not moving too fast these days, but we do see him engage in a bit of swordplay with Trejo at the end of the film. In opposition to Fahey, Seagal cheeses it up big time, mainly delivering the word "pandejo" throughout the film.
What didn't work? Well political considerations aside - there was way too much space between the action scenes. If you can believe it, there wasn't enough violence for this sort of movie. This isn't a film carried by story or acting, trust me (not that you're expecting it). It was disappointing when after the opening scenes they switched to standard cinematography instead of continuing the "grindhouse" film effects and shots throughout the entire film. The movie went on too long - after a while, considering the sort of film it is, one begins to lose interest because the in-between stuff is just plain boring. In a movie like this you've got to keep the action/craziness coming fast, furious and continuous. It would have been more effective had they tightened it up and cut it down to below 90 minutes.
So, populated with extreme two-dimensional stereotypes of Right-wingers who are against illegal immigration, will this film be controversial? Sure. Will it make people angry? Probably. But when you've got a film where a man escapes a hospital by gutting an attacker and swinging on his intestines like a rope, or lines like "I sell tacos to workers of the world. It fills their bellies with something besides hate" - how seriously can you take its political message (such as it is)?
In the end, you can probably save yourself an hour and 45 minutes and 7 bucks and just watch the NSFW trailer below, because you're not really getting too much more than that out of the entire film.
You can see the original (very NSFW) trailer here: