Machete is a 2010 action exploitation B-movie homage, co-written, produced, and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis. This movie is Danny Trejo’s first (and, let’s be honest, probably last) starring role, and has an all star-cast including Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan Rose McGowan, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, and Don Johnson.
We are introduced to Mexican Federale Machete, who is on a mission to rescue a kidnapped girl in Mexico. During the rescue attempt, he runs into a corrupt Chief as well as the powerful drug lord, Rogelio Torrez (played by Steven Seagal), who do their best to dispatch our hero. Three years later, Machete aimlessly roams Texas as an illegal immigrant, until businessman Michael Booth hires him to assassinate the corrupt Senator McLaughlin (played by Robert De Niro ) who holds a hard stance on illegal immigration for $150,000. Aided by Mexican illegal immigrant advocate Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and hampered by the likes of immigration officer Sartana Rivera (played by Jessica Alba) wackiness ensues.......
In 2007, Rodriguez released Planet Terror alongside Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof which together made Grindhouse: a double-billed 70’s style exploitation film. The film was released in America on the Thanksgiving weekend and bombed as a result. The two movies were then split and released to the overseas DVD market, which did not help the films at all.
Whereas Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof was more akin to the exploitation films of old in regard to script style and themes, Rodriguez simply threw in a zombie film he was working on at the time and labelled it Planet Terror. What the movie lacked in 70’s exploitation beats, it made up for in style: the colour turns red in anticipation of violence, the film jumps with action hits, such as punches and kicks, and there is even a missing reel between acts 2 and the final confrontation. Rodriguez even went so far as to drive the film stock around his studio car park to get authentic scratches on the frames!
Of note is that Grindhouse showcased many fake trailers influenced by exploitation films, such as sexploitation movie Werewolf Women of the SS, Don't, the slasher Thanksgiving, Hobo with a Shotgun and, of course, exploitation movie Machete, which follows a Mexican federale who gets hired to do a hatchet job for the U.S. government for relatively low pay. The trailer’s plot alone was more in line with the exploitation movie that Rodriguez was attempting to emulate at the time, with themes of prejudice, racism, and Mexican US politics thrown into the mix. The relationship between illegal Mexican immigrants within the US is a staple of Spaghetti westerns and of Robert Rodriguiez’s earlier Mariachi Trilogy (El Mariachi, Desperado, Once upon a Time in Mexico which were influenced by Chinese action films Hard Boiled and The Killer), where Rodriguez reportedly got the idea for Machete in the first place.
The movie starts off surprisingly strong with a ludicrous rescue mission gone awry. All of the Planet Terror’s B-Movie visual film tricks are here; cut frames, scratches and dodgy colouring, blended with messy ultra violence and contemporary technology. This leads up to a fantastic, highly stylised credit sequence. Soon however, the style is brought down to contemporary digital film. The plot starts to waiver as more and more screen time is given to the villains of the piece, concentrating on the villains inter-relationships, their family and even their personal security. The plot also gets convoluted, as if Rodriguez was repeating his mistakes made on Once upon a Time in Mexico. It is fun to see Machete when he is on screen, carving up the bad guys, but it is too little at this point. The film’s climax is too messily filmed and chaotic to appreciate and falls flat when compared to the fantastic introduction.
Of note however is Michelle Rodriguez phoenix-rising at film’s end; mustering up images of SS exploitation films and the work of Russ Meyer. Paradoxically, it is good to see Jessica Alba being given a strong character to play, even though her rousing speech at the movie’s climax is a bit of a stretch. In regards to Lindsay Lohan's first performance since her fall from grace.....meh.
If Machete kept to its B-movie roots already set in the Grindhouse trailer, and just kept the energy and style of its opening, the movie would have been a no-brainer hit. As it is, it is a good bookend to Planet Terror.
2.5 out of 5 machetes
Luke McWilliams November 2010