This revenge film's roots go back to Rodriguez's first casting of Danny Trejo, a knife-chucking tough guy in the 1995 film Desperado. Trejo, as Machete, the protagonist and title character, carries the film with his Charles Bronson kind of swagger. A look at Trejo's IMDB page reveals a scary-looking ex-con from San Quentin and veteran actor with more than 200 movies under his belt. Trejo's badass-ness is funny, yet the movie, co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis (longtime Rodriguez editor), never portrays him as a joke. Machete trudges through all the violence, gore and corruption that's ladled on him in heaping doses. Trejo only utters about 10 lines, but does a bang-up job just being ultra cool and extra tough.
Machete manages to weave in and out of all plot loopholes and stick to the corrupt avenging saga, incorporating a melting pot of immigration, politically corrupt power, revolution, unbalanced media, blackmail, propaganda and just plain heroic adventure with bad one-liners. Rodriguez & Co rip through Mexican culture with pride sufficiently supporting the violence with its humorous and creative edge. Yes, guys with big weapons and chicks in hot outfits and high heels are gratuitous and over-the-top, but the film's self-awareness has respect for its '70s exploitation. Every single one of Machete's sexual dalliances is enhanced by '70s porn-sexploitation-disco-wah-wah music. Lines like, "We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us" and "Machete don't text" are destined to be quoted classics. The religious imagery is hilarious throughout and of special note is a scene with perhaps the best use of a splattering intestine in cinematic history.
The cavalcade of stars propels this flick. There are no real cameos; everyone has abundant screen time to establish their characters. Steven Segal's Torrez is totally evil, Jeff Fahey's Booth is a two-faced bungling political slime ball and Cheech Marin plays Padre, a cursing gun-wielding priest. The redneck vermin include Robert De Niro's Senator McLaughlin, a combination of George W. Bush and Sherriff Roscoe, while Don Johnson gives us Sherriff Stillman, a deeply prejudiced cowboy with gray Elvis sideburns. On the sexy front, we have Michelle Rodriguez as a smokin' hot revolutionary legend disguised as a taco vendor and Jessica Alba as Sartana is an INS agent with all the outfits from Modesty Blasie. Then there's Lindsey Lohan (yes, for real) as April, a damsel in distress who finds salvation in a nun's habit.
Tito and Tarantula came up with a great soundtrack. But Machete's lackluster ending was all buildup and ultimately the film just fizzled out. The climactic face-off between gardeners, dishwashers and day laborers and their colorful, tricked-out, chopped-down, low-riding Mexican machines devolved too quickly. The Gatling gun mounted on a motorcycle handlebars explosion was merely lifted from the original Grindhouse trailer. The ending comes off like a disjointed three-ring circus, piling up one idea after another, with the filmmakers barely sewing it all together cohesively instead of creating one grandiose culmination. It seems to only touch the surface of everything Machete had been leading up to. This is strange ,considering Rodriguez's comic book forte. Maybe that's the curse of dual directing.
Knowing full well that we've "Pissed off the wrong Mexican," the ending credits tell us to watch for Machete Kills, the next installment, and hopefully they aren't just teasing.
Starring Danny Trejo, Michelle
Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson, Robert De Niro
Directed by Robert Rodriguez,