Buenas tardes señoras y señores (“good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen”, I think. I don’t speak Spanish). Cinematic craziness comes in many, many forms – from over-the-top characters to generally random plot happenstances – and if there’s one man who knows how to do it in style, it’s multi-talented writer and director Robert Rodriguez. Within the first three minutes of his new flick Machete, we have already witnessed a wrinkle-faced Mexican narrowly dodging a multitude of bullets, a bloody massacre inflicted by the blades of several sharp knives, and a butt naked Mayra Leal taking a cell phone out of her vagina. That’s one lucky cell phone.
You may remember a certain hilarious fake trailer starring Danny Trejo that played before screenings of Rodriguez’s previous B-movie imitator Planet Terror – part of the Grindhouse double feature with Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof – called Machete. Well, what was first intended to simply be a short little spoof of the exploitation genre has now manifested itself into a full-length movie, and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Unless you do hallucinogenic drugs on a regular basis.
What we saw in the originally bogus trailer was pretty much a shorter, briefer version of what we get here. The story revolves around our titular character (still played by Trejo), a Mexican day laborer working and living illegally in Texas. Once a tough federale, Machete stopped his crime-fighting ways after his wife and daughter were brutally murdered at the hands of local drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal) for his snooping around in Torrez’s business.
Three years later, Machete catches the eye of bearded businessman Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), who hires him to assassinate the corrupt Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), a man hell-bent on removing all illegal immigrants – or parasites, as he calls them – from the state. Machete is reluctant at first, but takes the offer of $150,000 and soon grabs a rifle, gets on top of a building and aims for McLaughlin’s head. To his surprise, our hero is quickly shot in the shoulder by a sniper situated on the opposite building before Machete can pull the trigger.
Realizing he’s been set up by Booth in a political marketing scheme to boost up McLaughlin’s support, Machete promptly escapes custody and sets out for bloody revenge with the help of some new friends, all while having the police and Booth’s armed men hunting him down.
Machete – like Piranha 3D and The Expendables – is part of the trend of self-aware, fun-poking genre flicks that have recently exploited their way onto cinema screens to wittingly wink at laughing audience members who get the joke and are smartly in the know. And Machete – the film, I mean – does a heck of a lot of nudge-nudge, wink-winking.
While Ethan Maniquis is listed as a co-director, this is very much a Robert Rodriguez film, smitten with the tone and style, as well as sense of humour of his famous outings such as the El Mariachi trilogy and From Dusk Till Dawn. Even the blisteringly awesome score by John Debney carries the familiar traits of Rodriguez’s music, consisting of a grungy feel and coated with electric guitar riffs.
Trejo plays it fully serious as our “don’t fuck with me, I won’t fuck with you” protagonist, an amigo so gruff that his black horseshoe moustache is enough to make you shit your pants. I bet he’s sweet and cuddly inside though. The cult character actor has sadly only been playing bit parts and cameos for most of his 27 year career, but hopefully this will get him the recognition he so deserves.
The cheese factor aims its ginormous, grinning guns as Machete effortlessly slices his way through butch bad guys with the aid of some gardening tools, and swings into the window below of a hospital using a dude’s disemboweled, unraveling intestines as rope. These satisfyingly frequent moments of maniacal madness are what make Machete what it is: a violent and silly send-up and/or homage to grindhouse cinema, and for that it really works, showing off our Latino hero as a fantastic and memorable character.
However, the focus shifts from Trejo a little too much to make way for other characters to have their own individual spotlights. While these other players are interesting, it nonetheless takes away from what should be the Con Air star’s leading role.
De Niro, Fahey and Seagal each chew large parts of the scenery as our main villains, with De Niro the chuckling politician, Fahey the smooth-talking businessman with assassins on speed-dial, and Seagal the sinister drug lord who took away everything Machete ever loved. Each of them are affiliated with one another, and each of them are targets for Machete to carve up some much-needed revenge.
Helping Machete on his mission are Cheech Marin as his brother Padre, a priest with more shotguns in his church than bibles, and Michelle Rodriguez as Luz, a super-hot taco-truck lady with a determination to take down Lt. Von (Don Johnson), an evil and unflinching border patrol vigilante.
Jessica Alba is Sartana, a U.S Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent (ICE for short) who takes an interest in Machete’s antics, while Lindsay Lohan is Fahey’s coke-snorting party girl of a daughter, April. It’s the role Lohan was born to play. As you can see, this is a pretty damn cool cast, and none of them feel squandered in the slightest, given much character taco to sink their teeth into.
Spiced up with hilarious one-liners and packed with tasteless corniness, Machete really is a treat. It’s fast-paced, it’s ridiculous and it’s oh so entertaining; Rodriguez indulging himself, and us, with no end in sight. It is a definite cut above many modern action pictures, succeeding in the majority of areas where The Expendables and The Losers thoroughly failed, making for a piñata filled with fun. Watch and learn, Stallone. Watch and learn.
Eight outta ten