Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis
“From director Robert Rodriguez (‘Grindhouse,’ ‘Sin City’) comes an action-packed, cutting-edge serving of carnage asada…with killer deleted scenes that deliver more guns, more girls and more Machete action! Set up, double-crossed and left for dead, Machete (Danny Trejo) is an ass-kicking ex-Federale who lays waste to anything that gets in his path. As he takes on hitmen, vigilantes and a ruthless drug cartel, bullets fly, blades clash and the body count rises. Any way you slice it, vengeance has a new name–Machete.”
“Machete” is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity.
We meet Trejo’s Machete during his days as a Mexican Federale just before his wife and daughter are brutally murdered by a local druglord, played by a katana-wielding Steven Seagal. Three years later, a down-and-out Machete has crossed the border and is desperately looking for work when he’s given a suitcase of money to assassinate the racist Senator McLaughlin, played by Robert De Niro, essentially a set-up to make the Mexicans in Texas seem worse and back up the senator’s plan to put up an electrified fence on the border. Helping Machete enact his revenge are an immigration agent played by Jessica Alba and Luz, a taco slinger with a secret played by Michelle Rodriguez.
Anyone who has seen the indie “SherryBaby” knows that Danny Trejo is a solid actor and that Machete was perfectly-tailored towards his abilities similarly to El Mariachi was for Antonio Banderas. Trejo does a terrific job carrying the movie without having a ton of dialogue, and he’s only overshadowed by Robert De Niro’s hilarious caricature of a racist Texan Senator, a role that allows him to have a lot of fun without making it feel like he’s phoning it in. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast are either trying to create the B-movie level of acting from the movie’s ’70s references or they’re just bad actors, and unfortunately, it’s probably more the latter.
Jessica Alba looks nice but she really stinks up the movie whenever she tries to emote, while Rodriguez is generally pretty kick-ass in a role much better suited for her. Who knows if Lindsay Lohan will ever get back the magic that made her such a hot commodity over at Disney, but she certainly fits comfortably into the role of a drug-taking skank without having to put too much work into it. Former “Spy Kid” Daryl Sabara has not improved much with age either, though one thinks his ridiculous character is more intentional.
As with the movies that influenced Rodriguez, there’s absolutely nothing PC about “Machete,” so the racist bad guys don’t hold back with their racial slurs, almost to the point of going too far, even if they all get their comeuppance by the time the dust settles. Overall, “Machete” certainly has more than its share of fun moments, usually involving the grisly violence he subjects on his pursuers. The problem is that Rodriguez never fully decides whether to play the movie seriously or as a big joke, which leads to an erratic tone where some moments feel silly and out of place to others. Even so, it’s fun watching the filmmaker shoehorn actual scenes from the original trailer into the full-length movie in order to make the story work, although it’s obvious that only Trejo, Cheech Marin and Jeff Fahey are reprising their roles.
Other than the addition of a couple new characters and the starpower that comes with it, “Machete” never fully justifies its expanded status, nor does it feel like a movie that anyone’s going to relish beyond one viewing, successfully capturing the throwaway popcorn aesthetic of the movies that inspired it. Either way, it’s far more satisfying and effective than “The Expendables” and other action throwbacks this year.