I’m on a pretty good roll lately as far as movies being exactly what I want them to be. “The Expendables” was a solid attempt to recreate a 1980s style action flick driven by a big name, or many big names in this particular case. “Piranha 3D” was completely over the top fun, full of tens of thousands of gallons of fake blood, and equally fake naked breasts. Both did exactly what I wanted them to do, and I enjoyed them thoroughly. Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete” fits nicely alongside those two films.
Going into “Machete” you know what to expect, and you know you want to see. You want to see things like a giant, heavily tattooed, beast-man hack people up with a comically large machete. Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis do not disappoint on that front. Before the credits, Machete (perennial supporting player, general badass, and the most awesomely grizzled man ever, Danny Trejo) severs more heads than you can count, and lops off a hand holding a revolver, picks it up, fires it with the hand still gripping the gun, and discards it because he prefers the up close and personal feel of killing a man with a large knife. Then he runs around for a while with a naked woman over his shoulder and, you guessed it, a machete in his other hand. It is the perfect way to begin a movie.
“Machete” is an even better take on the drive-in/grindhouse style of than Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror”. When you first saw the fake “Machete” trailer you said to your buddies, “Man, wouldn’t it be rad if that was a real movie?”, but you secretly thought that there was no way a full-length feature could live up the condensed mayhem of the trailer. Well, I’m here to tell you that it can, does, and goes even farther than your warped little mind ever dreamed.
Machete is a Federale who is driven by honor and what is right rather than what the law and his corrupt bosses tell him to do. This leads him astray of drug kingpin Torrez, played by Steven Seagal, who, despite his ridiculous Mexican accent, is pretty great in this role. Torrez is in cahoots with Booth (Jeff Fahey) who is in cahoots with Senator John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro, who is having a blast) who is in cahoots with Stillman (Detective Sonny Fucking Crockett himself, Don Johnson), a vigilante border guard.
Machete is betrayed by his government, his family is murdered, and he is left for dead. He makes his way across the border into Texas with help from the Network, a group headed by Michelle Rodriguez as a mysterious revolutionary figure, that helps people sneak into the US, and is run out of a taco truck. Rodriguez with an eye-patch and a big ass gun is one of the most absurdly hot things I’ve ever seen movies.
Machete is hired by Booth to assassinate the Senator, only to be betrayed yet again. He is set up and has to go underground in order to sate his thirst for vengeance. Jessica Alba shows up as a conflicted immigration officer, Cheech Marin is a priest/Machete’s brother, Tom Savini plays a hitman with a 1-800 hotline, and Lindsey Lohan is, well, a caricature of herself as a meth addicted party-girl porn-star.
“Machete” starts out at a dead run and doesn’t bother to slow down. There is a lot of story for a movie that never goes more than a few minutes between moments of absurd and brutal violence, like Machete swinging from a goon’s entrails, and the characters aren’t as flat as you might expect given the genre and tone.
Rodriguez has a keen eye for action. Even in his insanely low-budget “El Mariachi” his framing and camera moves add a stylistic flourish that is missing in a lot of modern action films. He likes to actually show the action, and even when scenes move at a frenetic pace they are clear and fluid instead of jumbled and confusing. It is a nice change from muddy fight scenes full of disorienting, rapid-fire editing.
At one point there is even a fleet of tricked out low-riders that bring to mind “Mad Max” style battlewagons with hydraulics.
My only knock on “Machete” is the CGI gore. Instead of using physical effects, which is weird since there’s a makeup guru like Tom Savini in the cast, they rely on digital gunshot wounds and machetes piercing through torsos. Unfortunately this is getting more and more prevalent these days, so I’m pretty sure it’s just something I’ll have to get used to.
Aside from that one complaint, “Machete” has everything I could possibly want—hot women, big guns, scary dudes, shootouts, knife fights, torture, and completely unnecessary explosions. It feels like exactly the type of movie that Rodriguez and company set out to make. I want to see it at a drive-in as part of a double feature with “Piranha 3D”.