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September 4, 2010

Machete

2010, Dir. by Ethan Maniquis & Robert Rodriguez.

I don't really have a lot I want to say about Machete, the Grindhouse spin-off from Robert Rodriguez and friends.  It's a film that comes exactly as advertised, which is good for anyone who became rabid to see it exist after the faux-trailer brought the idea to cinemas in 2007.  Like that trailer, the film is vulgar and in-your-face - offering a lot of goofy action and little focus on plot.

That's not to say Machete is entirely successful as a cheesy actionfest.  Rodriguez and friends spend a lot of time focusing on the political message dealing with immigration laws and the enforcement of them.  I felt like the film focused a little too heavily on these issues at times, and the plot suffers because of this.  For example, Steven Seagal's drug lord character is set up to be the lead protagonist in the opening sequence, but then plays second fiddle to the immigration plot for the rest of the film.  The script offers a half-cocked explanation of how this drug lord ties in to the immigration angle, but the film really seems to lose focus on the revenge plot that would appear to be Machete's motive.

Speaking of the character that is Machete, Danny Trejo does a fine job in a career-defining lead role.  The veteran on-screen henchman plays to the strengths he's developed in films like Con Air, Desperado, and Heat; gritting his teeth and scowling at villains and women alike.  Despite his gruff appearance, Machete is presented as a ladies man, with conquests that include Jessica Alba as an immigration agent, Michelle Rodriguez as a revolutionary/taco-stand proprietor, Lindsay Lohan as a rich daughter/porn star, and Alicia Marek as Lohan's busty redheaded mother.  Trejo is also able to dial down his grimace for a few scenes that remind of his comic roles in films like Anchorman, allowing those around him to create a few laughs.  A fine example of this comes in a scene where he slips past a couple of inept security guards to infiltrate the home of the "handler" who set him up.

Speaking of that handler, Jeff Fahey steals large portions of the film as Booth, the aptly named rich fellow behind the assassination attempt that's the film's crux.  Though he's overshadowed by the big names in the film's advertsing, the star of The Lawnmower Man and Psycho III gives what is easily the film's most enjoyable performance as the wide-eyed, gruff-voiced antagonist.  It's also nice to see Splinter's Shea Whigham as Fahey's greasy assistant; and Tom Savini in a brief cameo as a hitman who's sent after Machete.

The big names of the cast range from fine to embarrassing in the cheesy film.  Robert DeNiro seems to be on cruise control as the slimy anti-Immigration senator, and Don Johnson is a little more interesting as a one-note vicious border guard.  As far as the film's famous women go, Rodriguez is adequate as the leader of "The Network", while Alba is mediocre as the sympathetic cop.  She probably gets the most screen-time as a protagonist aside from Trejo, yet her "important" monologue is one of the film's least effective moments.  I've generally found the troubled Lohan endearing as an actress (I still like to bet people that she'll have an Oscar by the time she's 40), and she carries a couple of cheesy gags in her few scenes.  (Her off-screen persona probably helps make this role work, too.)

The action in Machete is on-par with things we've seen in other Rodriguez films, though it's probably closer to the likes of the stylized Once Upon a Time in Mexico than the gritty Planet Terror.  I actually felt the film was a little tamer than I'd expected, as the violence takes a back seat to the "message" of the film on occasion. The violence that does occur seems a little off at times, with some instances of very noticeable CGI killing the buzz.  There are still, however, some extremely gratifying decapitations, dismemberments, and defenestrations.

For someone who said they don't have much to say about the movie, I've said quite a bit.  But as an overall film, I'm sad to say that there's little that really gets me excited about it.  It's a hoot in the moment, and I'm sure I'll revisit it again, but those expecting something that's completely unrestrained - at least to the level of Grindhouse - will probably be a little disappointed.  Machete feels like a b-action movie by a b-action filmmaker, the kind of time-passing "party" film that a bunch of friends would put on when there are too many people around to watch an actual movie.  That's not a bad thing - Machete succeeds in most technical regards and can't be accused of being dull.  Unfortunately, it didn't do much for me that would separate it from the pack of the summer's action films - including Stallone's The Expendables and the Rodriguez produced Predators - and it doesn't seem raw enough to become a true cult classic.  Perhaps time will prove me wrong, but for now I must admit I'm a little disappointed by what I got from Machete.

5 comments:

carpesensum said...

I didn't walk in there expecting art, and I got the feeling during the film that the studio wasn't expecting it either, so that's my explanation for the flimsy plot. But yeah, I agree with you, the whole immigration theme wasn't handled very well.

The Mike said...

Yeah, I try not to fault it too much for the plot. I didn't necessarily expect art, I guess I just expected a bit more with my sleaze. Small problems that I hope will fade with repeate viewings and lower expectations.

Trick or Treat Pete said...

I had a feeling this Machete would turn out to disappoint some people. I haven't seen it and will probably wait until it comes to Red Box or free to Netflix.
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Fred [The Wolf] said...

Well I enjoyed this film. I do agree about the immigration subplot. It does ruin the film's tone and flow a bit. But overall, I'm surprised this got a theatrical release. And I'm surprised it did as well as it did last weekend. This film is not everyone's cup of tea, but I like the fact that exploitation films still have a place in modern cinema. Great review. I'll be doing one in the next couple of days myself.

Will Errickson said...

Kinda not surprised to hear MACHETE was a bit disappointing. And I was really hoping DeNiro would bring it in this but, alas, seems not to be the case. Sounds like he might need his own Travolta-style PULP FICTION rescue from irrelevance.