Review: Trejo's Machete is a Cartoon Bag of Bloody Goodness
by Jeremy Kirk
September 3, 2010
The grindhouse is alive, and it's got a new blade to swing at you. Despite rather lackluster box office returns for the 2007 film "experiment" of Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez has finally expanded his fake trailer from that film. Machete, the feature, is here, and it's loaded with ridiculous action, gallows humor, and Danny Trejo. Hell, Rodriguez even has a message or two packed in there somewhere. It's an unstable piñata filled with all the great things that made the grind house films of old such a unique experience, and, once it bursts, it showers you with the candy inside. It's bloody candy, though, so you may need a poncho.
You need a narrative in there somewhere, too, I guess, some sense of a story so the head explosions, limb slicing, and squib popping have some sense of weight behind them. Trejo plays Machete, naturally, a former Federale who, in the film's brutal opening scene, is betrayed by his government and has his family slaughtered by Steven Seagal. Seagal is supposedly playing a druglord here, but, really, it's just Seagal pasting on a thick accent.
Machete moves to Texas where he takes work as a day laborer. His life is peaceful until a businessman, played by Jeff Fahey, makes Machete an offer. He will pay him $150,000 to kill a local senator, played by Robert De Niro, running for re-election on the campaign of border control. Machete agrees, but, before you can say, "they just messed with the wrong Mexican," they mess with the wrong Mexican. Machete, finding himself betrayed once again, turns to his violent ways and takes revenge on the lot of them. Entrails ensue.
Co-directed by Rodriguez and his long-time editor Ethan Maniquis, the film is a hodgepodge, almost a mess, of cartoonish violence. From the opening scene, we know what kind of movie we're getting into. Before the opening credits, even before Rodriguez's signature burning Troublemaker Studios logo, we're subjected to hails of bullets, bloodied bodies, and Machete lopping heads off with little might. The bodies in this movie seem made of soft rubber, and the lack of effort put forth by Machete to cut their heads, arms, and legs off just adds to the already thick sense of levity in the air.
This is not the type of action movie to cringe at the way in which people are dispatch. This is the type of film that has our hero slicing open a man's stomach, reaching into said stomach, pulling out an end of intestine, and then using that intestine as a means of escaping out a window. It's the type of film that has Cheech Marin show up as a priest, also Machete's brother, with TV surveillance monitors stacked in the form of a cross. It's all a big joke, and it's easily passed off as something much less than offensive.
Of course, getting back to the co-directing idea, the film does feel up and down in the way the humor and violence is handled. At times, it's way over the top. See intestine ripping scene above. At other times, the cartoon pulls back a bit and the crags in Trejo's face aren't quite as smoothed over. There is little indication what scenes were directed by Rodriguez and what was handled by Maniquis, but the notion of more than one chef in the kitchen definitely bleeds through at times.
Whichever one of them, though, that handled the sex/romantic side of Machete doesn't pull through, though. I'm all for Trejo not only getting his first starring role here but also being able to have close scenes with Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, and Lindsay Lohan (or her stunt double, for that matter). These scenes, though, the ones that try to tone the film down a bit and give us a breather between set pieces, are simply boring. It's easy to blame the directors here, because they've been giving us non-stop absurdity for God knows how long. If all you feed a kid is Skittles, he's not going to be too interested when you plop a piece of chicken down in front of him.
These scenes are few, though, and Rodriguez, Alba, and yes, even Lohan get to kick a little tail in their own right when the time comes. Much of this is in the concluding battle to the film, which doesn't handle itself all that well, either. It's not that the ridiculousness isn't there. There are still crazy deaths and violent wackiness to be had well into Machete's third act. It's just that, somewhere along the lines, it loses a bit of its steam. The piñata is still busted open, and there's still bloody candy raining down for us. We just might be a little too familiarized with the whole concept to care to see when and where it will stop.
Regardless, Machete certainly delivers on the craziness Rodriguez teased us with in that trailer two years ago. On a related note, he does a good job including all of those shots in the film. The jerky way in which the subtler moments are handled and the gas siphoning out of the tank well before the film's finale are definite problems to overcome, but it's hard not to look back on Machete fondly. It is working towards something, something ridiculous, but something nonetheless. Fans of the Grindhouse experience will absolutely be entertained by the slicing and dicing of Machete, and, if for nothing else, the film will always go down as Danny Trejo's introduction to the land of "Name Above the Title". It's a nice place to be, and, in cases such as Machete, it's one filled with an excessive amount of dead bad guys. Just the way Machete would want it.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10