Movie Review: Machete
By Matthew Huntley
September 16, 2010

I will protect you, Spy Kids!

Robert Rodriguez is a filmmaker with a bold and energetic style, and that’s what we like about him. We also appreciate him fulfilling multiple roles on each of his projects, which gives him the creative freedom to go where other filmmakers won’t dare. He proves that once again in Machete, a rip-roaring, ultra-violent revenge picture that extends Rodriguez’s love of grindhouse, that perverse style of cinema where sex, violence and exploitation go hand in hand (you may recall seeing the trailer for Machete in between Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Deathproof, as part of their grindhouse double feature).

In Machete, Danny Trejo, that prolific, Hispanic actor with the gruff, one-of-a-kind face, plays the title character. He’s a Mexican Federale trying to bring down a mighty drug lord named Torrez (Steven Seagal), who kills Machete’s family and leaves him for dead. Three years later, in the midst of controversial immigration laws, Machete is psychologically wounded and looking for work on the Texas/Mexican border, where Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba), an agent for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, keeps a watchful eye on the local migrant workers. She’s also suspicious of Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who runs a taco truck but may actually be the mythical Shé, a freedom fighter who oversees “the network,” an organization of Mexican revolutionaries fighting for justice.

Machete is sought after by Booth (Jeff Fahey), aid to the fanatical Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) from Texas. Booth, McLaughlin and a ruthless vigilante named Von (Don Johnson) are conspiring with Torrez to get the senator re-elected so he can sanction an electric fence along the border, making it easy to control labor, business, the drug trade, etc. It’s Machete’s mission to bring them all down in one giant bloodbath - not that everyone has to die, but when someone does, it’s the bloodiest kind of death. If I had to bet, I’d say every named character in this movie kills at least one other person, including Machete’s loyal friend and priest, Padre (Cheech Marin), and dear Lindsay Lohan, who’s naked one minute and dressed as a nun the next.

Of course, the movie is intentionally gritty, hyper-violent, overtly sexual, and the characters are mostly goofy and one-dimensional. Such is the spirit of a grindhouse picture. But despite the confines of the style, there are some inspired moments, which will either have the audience cheering in their seats or cowering in disgust. Many involve the use of a machete itself - it slices, dices, amputates and decapitates in the blink of an eye. Another involves a nifty little trick with a large intestine (you’ll have to see it to believe it), while one of the movie’s best scenes contains no violence at all. It takes place as three American bodyguards discuss the ironies and hypocrisies surrounding illegal Mexican labor. Machete attacks them with garden tools, but the outcome isn’t what you expect.

This is a fun, entertaining movie to be sure, and on a quasi serious level, it safely and obviously points out the fallacies of the immigration issues currently facing our country (the screenplay observes it from a practical point of view). But I wish Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis had gone above and beyond their call of duty. To me, they simply give fans what they want to see and hear. The movie pleases and excites, and viewers will surely feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth, but it lacks a “wow” factor. The violence is cool, over-the-top and funny, but it’s not something I haven’t seen before or didn’t expect. If you’re a fan of Rodriguez, I guarantee you’ll walk away happy, but not necessarily surprised.

What I’d like to see from Rodriguez is a project that lives outside his usual realm of cinematic flare. Has he thought about writing or directing a movie that doesn’t fall within the action/adventure genre? And could he devise a plot that’s not necessarily about revenge? With all his resources and actor-friends, it’d be interesting to see him harness his energy toward something new and different. We already know he can deliver sensational violence and sex, but how about he try making a movie that attempts to broaden his fandom instead of just serving the one his already has?