Running time: 105 mins
Director: Robert Rodriguez & Ethan Maniquis
Starring: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal, Jessica Alba
Genre: Action, Thriller, Exploitation
As a fan of Robert Rodriguez I came to the 2010 Mexiploitation revenge thriller Machete will all the enthusiasm and joy of a child on Christmas day. The blade obsessed tattooed killer is not just the role Trejo was born to play but it’s also, due to the interconnectivity of the world of Rodriguez, a prequel to his 2001 family espionage film Spy Kids.
After powerlessly watching his family murdered by Mexican drug lord Torres (Seagal) Machete is forced out of
Mexico and across the border to where United States Senator (De Niro) is waging war on immigration using the power of rhetoric and automatic weapons were necessary. When approached and offered $150,000 to assassinate the Senator a desperate Machete accepts only to find himself the patsy in a world of power, double cross and hidden agendas. Texas
The trailer for Machete, along with that for Hobo with a Shotgun¸ was one of the high points of the Rodriguez/Tarantino 2007 experiment in nostalgia Grindhouse. Some three years later and no doubt endless calls in the small hours from Trejo, Rodriguez brings the one man Mexican army to the big screen. What you’ll immediately notice is that the final realisation of the film is a lot of star studded than the trailer, even though Rodriguez shot some 50 minutes of footage to cut together his trailer the casting of De Niro, Alba, Seagal and Michelle Rodriguez has forced the film back to the beginning. No doubt having a heavy hitter like De Niro, paparazzi’s favourite Lindsay Lohan and Alba on board opened a lot of doors for the film but in casting such recognisable names it actually detracts from the film in some ways. These performers, especially De Niro and Lohan, come with a lot of baggage and rather than help give the film that genuine Exploitation feel it actually coats the film in a hint of irony. They all know what’s going on, they all know what they’re doing and unlike Hobo with a Shotgun they are all playing to the genre. Having said that De Niro is extremely strong in this, after terrible filmic offerings like all of the Focker films, Righteous Kill not to mention New Years Eve it’s nice to see a hint of the man that inspired a generation of actors rather than a tired old man kicking around until his pension comes through. Alba puts in a strong, hard kicking performance. It appears that she does her best work with Rodriguez at the helm and will no doubt be praying that
parts two and three finally get the go ahead to save her from more romantic comedies with Dane Cook. Let’s not go any further without mentioning the awesomeness that is Cheech Marin, not only does he have some of the best one liners in the film but he cuts the sort of iconic image (wielding twin shotguns) that will sit comfortably alongside Ms. 45 in years to come. The man is a trooper and has always done whatever Rodriguez has asked of him regardless of the size or importance of the role. Sin City
Danny Trejo has been playing this role for over ten years, in one way, one genre, or another so it’s no surprise that he’s remarkable. His physical presence is one that deserves more leading roles but unfortunately his appearance means that chances in Hollywood are small and clearly defined so it’s with this understanding that Machete is embraced with even more enthusiasm that it probably warrants. Aside from Trejo, Jeff Fahey is an absolute revelation and probably the greatest thing Exploitation cinema has seen in thirty years. Michelle Rodriguez is underused and Lohan demonstrates a sense of humour in a role that can only be described as a train wreck of a human being.
Narratively Rodriguez has always peppered his films with some dark humour, whether it’s Sex Machine’s crotch gun (From Dusk Til Dawn), Abby’s testicle collection (Planet Terror) or the Dude’s roller skills (Roadracers) there’s always moment of hilarity to be found. Machete is no exception in the first two thirds of the film as it not only demonstrates an understanding and love for Exploitation cinema but also RR’s own personal sense of humour. The trouble with Machete comes in the final third when the film lapses into genre clichés and lacks any personality or style. It also rushes head first towards the finishing line, almost as if they had forgotten to write an ending and need to improvise as the projector enters it's last reel. Another issue is when Rodriguez has taken a back seat to allow his long term visual effects editor Maniquis cut his teeth that the film looses the identity that Rodriguez and Trejo have been laying for years. The final showdown feels forced, uninspired and lacking in any impetus which sadly lets the film down.
What makes Exploitation great is the ethos of striving for greatness, even if budget and talent is against them. The problem with Machete is that too much of it is tongue in cheek and those involved have too much of an awareness of their efforts. We’ve been promised a return with Machete Kills and a third with Machete Kills Again and if they’re able to capture what makes the first two acts of the film great and follow through to the end and avoid the star casting then the Machete franchise could run for years to come.