Review – Machete

Originally Posted at Aint It Cool News 8/31/10

Machete, co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, is everything Stallone was trying to do with The Expendables, but done correctly. Well, okay, “correctly” is kind of a strange word to use when describing something as sloppy and reckless as this film. Nothing about the film is technically “correct.” Much of what happens in the film falls under the category of “That shit ain’t right.” Machete is a hard film to describe.

At its core, Machete is a left-wing exploitation sleaze-fest, something I’ve not seen since John Carpenter pulled it off in “They Live” – and that’s not a comparison I make lightly. Once again, as with “Planet Terror,” Rodriguez is aiming for Grindhouse, but has skidded sideways off the target, indulging in the type of irresponsible cinematic joyriding that earned Carpenter a home in the hearts of genre fanboys. Maybe he’s doing it on accident, maybe not. Either way, I’m glad he’s doing it, because Carpenter sure as hell ain’t.

Irresponsible is maybe the best way to encapsulate the Machete experience. Brutal is a good word, too. Thuddingly corny is pretty apt. Gleefully gross, blithely blasphemous, stupidly satirical, sledgehammer subtle, all of them fit the film as snugly as the vest full of knives that BadAss Hall-Of-Famer Danny Trejo wears in the final act.

By the way, how the hell do we get to 2010 before someone thinks to cast Trejo as the lead in a theatrical release? We’ve been without a Charles Bronson heir since that squinty sonofabitch shuffled off this mortal coil in 2003. Hollywood’s spent too many years fruitlessly chasing the ghosts of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Trejo’s time is long past due. He’s a real hardass, all crags and scowls, tats and steely sneers. Not like these aged, half-plastic HGH monsters who have to inject so much hormone they piss ground beef, who have to enlist squads of makeup-artists to hand-paint fake, meaningless “tribal” body-art on their bodies, just to vainly fail at approximating the authenticity of Trejo’s badassery.

I invoke the name of Bronson because that’s who Trejo is channeling here, and he pulls it off with Chuck’s closed-mouthed panache. He doesn’t have many lines, but he doesn’t need ‘em. He’s got presence. Fuckin’ loads of it. You know what else there’s loads of? Blood. Tits. Inventive action sequences, executed ruthlessly, and breathlessly, even if this film, like “The Expendables,” uses way too many CGI blades n’ blood. Maybe it can be chalked up to Rodriguez’s experience with cheap digital FX (he’s also the VFX Supervisor on the film) that the artificial gore doesn’t feel as lazy. There’s an impact to the cartoonish violence on display, even if there’s no ACTUAL impact.

I know I’ve beat up on “The Expendables,” but I do appreciate the film, in that it helps highlight all the things that Rodriguez/Maniquis have done right in comparison. Instead of 2 scene-chewing villains, Machete has 4, played by Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson, Robert DeNiro and Steven Seagal. I listed them in ascending order according to their level of slimy turdage. Fahey is slick and conniving, a mulleted equal-opportunity fucker. Johnson is the Sheriff Joe Arpaio stand-in, calmly sociopathic, a leathery shark in silver sideburns. DeNiro is a cross between Dubya and Charlie Crist – an opportunistic play-acting buffoon. And Seagal? He plays himself: A fat, despicable, pretentious bag of shit appropriating other people’s cultures with a greasy, covetous zeal he apparently reserves for only one other thing: Donuts.

The whole lineup of actors is, like in Stallone’s recent try-too-hard, ADD epic, a triumph of self-referential stunt casting; Cheech Marin as a weed-smoking priest with hidden cameras in the confessional, Michelle Rodriguez as a sweaty, bad-ass bitch, Jessica Alba as the over-earnest hot lady cop hiding her soft nature behind a tough facade. The only real misstep is Lindsay Lohan, who spends most of the movie literally just fucking laying there. And even that sorta works, as she’s been cast as a degenerate rich-girl party-whore.

The story is exactly what we were sold in the Grindhouse trailer. Fahey hires Trejo to kill the senator. Trejo is doublecrossed. He enlists the help of his brother and other day laborers and sympathetics to enact his revenge, which involves a metric fuckton of stabbings, an homage to Die Hard that replaces the firehose with a goon’s intestines, a Cheechifixion, and yes, a chopper with a minigun mounted to the handlebars. All of this leads to a finale on Johnson’s militia compound, between corn-fed, border patrolling rednecks, and a collection of angry landscapers, dishwashers and an ice cream man, led by Machete and a 20-car convoy of tricked out, DeathRace-style reinforced Cutlass Supremes, Impalas and Monte Carlos.

There are a couple surprises. 1) Rodriguez keeps a firm grip on his often slippery pacing, at least until the very end, when the film overreaches for epic and grabs a big fistful of anti-climactic 2) It’s pretty political, albeit in a very ham-fisted way. People who believe that illegal immigration is tantamount to terrorism will likely get all sorts of pissed off, because Rodriguez makes those people out to be cartoonishly vile, racist degenerates worthy of a wide variety of grisly retributions.

But to get worked up about the politics is to miss the point. This is not a film people are going to rally around, or point to as a defining moment in their political awakening. The politics are here work solely as a means to introduce more ridiculous violence and goofy set-pieces. Same way right-wing, pro-facism propaganda made for legitimately great 80’s junk cinema. You could put stock in the ridiculously simplistic sloganeering on display, but then you’d be just as silly as the movie is. Best to just enjoy the speechifying done by Alba and Michelle Rodriguez the same way we enjoyed the uplifting mouthfuls of cheese spewed by Rocky and Rambo and Red Dawn.

You really want an 80’s throwback? Machete is that film. This is the winking, snickering, self-aware but still seriously asskicking concoction of explosions and mayhem, full of the giddy, one-liner laden, character rich treasures that the best 80’s junk cinema had to offer. That’s not to say Machete is a great movie. It’s much too messy for that. But it is a playfully infectious, irresponsibly fun piece of wetwork.

Published in: on 12/31/2010 at 1:29 am  Comments Off on Review – Machete  
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