(by Dustin Putman
For anyone who saw the fake trailer for "Machete" and wished it were a real movie when it appeared at the start of 2007's Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double-feature "Grindhouse," their dreams have finally been answered. Making sure not to let their audience down, directors Rodriguez (2009's "Shorts") and Ethan Maniquis go hog-wild with this feature-length adaptation, bringing such a mischievously satirical, brazenly un-PC sense of humor to the project that constant carnage, bloodshed and flagrant loss of human life cease to offend in the scheme of things. It's difficult to take anything seriously here—not the lead character's vengeance for the death of his wife and daughter, whom he never talks about afterward and seems to have forgotten about by the end of the prologue, and certainly not the present-day immigration debate—but that's to be expected. Even when things threaten to become so slight as to begin to evaporate from one's mind immediately after it's over, the film knows what it's doing and delivers on those counts. It's everything the lugubrious, loathsomely self-serious "The Expendables" was supposed to be, but wasn't. Article continues below
Machete (Danny Trejo) is a Mexico-based federal agent whose life and career come crashing down after his family is killed by ruthless drug kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal). Three years later, he's turned to day labor work in Texas just as Migration Customs Enforcer Sartana (Jessica Alba) comes sniffing around for illegals who have crossed the border. With staunch anti-immigration Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) up for imminent reelection—"an independent from Cocksucker County" is how he's politely described—his scheming aide Booth (Jeff Fahey) approaches Machete with an offer: $150,000 to assassinate the senator. In actuality, the whole thing is a set-up that finds Machete now on the run and vowing revenge against Booth. As a war between Mexican immigrants and the U.S. breaks out, Machete teams with taco stand owner/underground freedom fighter Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and a sides-changing Sartana as he moves closer to the man responsible for his wife's and daughter's murders, Torrez.
"Machete" is slightly overstuffed with side characters and overlong at 105 minutes—there are a few slow spots, to be sure—but when it buckles into its groove and goes for the jugular, those in the right frame of mind for a modern-made '70s B-movie throwback won't be able to resist. Machete may be sixty-six, but he instantly takes his place in the annals of cinematic badassery as he chops off five heads in a single swipe of his blade, swings out a window using a victim's intestines as rope, and beds virtually every female character who shows up for any suitable length of time. Were that not enough, he's so ruthless and threatening that he scares off one henchman ("I quit!" the guy yells as he throws down his weapon and runs away from Machete and his weed whacker) and causes another stabbed villain to finish himself off by twisting the knife in his own stomach. In one of his first lead roles, character actor Danny Trejo (2010's "Predators") was born to play the part of Machete. Above all else—he has nearly two hundred credits to his acting resumé—this is likely the iconic role he will be remembered for.
The rest of the cast welcome their involvement in something so knowingly silly and over-the-top, from the usually bland Jessica Alba (2010's "Valentine's Day") in rare radiant form as Machete's central love interest Sartana, to Michelle Rodriguez (2009's "Avatar") as the equally hot and fierce Luz, to Cheech Marin (2009's "Race to Witch Mountain") and Tom Savini (2008's "Zack and Miri Make a Porno") as a priest and contract killer facing off against one another in church. As the crooked Senator McLaughlin, Robert De Niro (2009's "Everybody's Fine") is deliciously inspired, no more so than in the political ads sprinkled throughout where he compares immigrants to varmints and cockroaches and vows to put up an electric fence around the U.S.-Mexico border. In her first theatrical turn since 2007's misunderstood "I Know Who Killed Me," troubled starlet Lindsay Lohan does just fine as Booth's junkie daughter April, prone to making sex tapes with her mother and, by the end, slipping on a nun's habit to go along with her bullets-blazing pistol.
"Machete" is inconsequential, violently inventive, and proud to be sleazy. An orgy of hot babes, rugged men and blood-strewn weaponry, the picture has been made with giddy, people-pleasing aplomb. As with any low-budget drive-in feature from the era it emulates, the editing is intentionally jerky, the cinematography favors the hues of sand and sweat, and no punches are pulled when it comes to depicting the mincemeat made out of over half its cast. Within all that, though, is a happy coherence to its action scenes that sways away from today's shaky, flash-cutting tendencies. Whether a joke or a promise, when the end credits tout not one, but two sequels, "Machete Kills" and "Machete Kills Again," it's impossible not to feel a tinge of giddiness at the prospect.