By Gary Murray
I, along with a scad of other critics, loved the Grindhouse double feature of a few years ago. For those who didn't catch it, these two films were presented as if they were some kind 1970s double bill with all the worn out mechanisms of breaks and tears that old flicks have by running through projectors time and time again. It was a loving homage to those little known but much beloved drive-in style films. In the presentation of Grindhouse, there were trailers for other films, more an an 'in-joke' for all the geeks. One of them has now been made into a feature length feature, Machete.
The story starts out a few years ago with Machete (Danny Trejo) a Mexican Federal agent who is going in to save a damsel in distress from a drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal). A load of dead bodies and a few betrayals later, the king pin gets the upper hand and destroys Machete's life.
With a flash forward of a few years, we are now in Austin and the world has changed. Machete is an undocumented day laborer who still packs a solid punch. The local owner of a taco stand Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) befriends Machete while a ICE agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) watches the illegals. Machete thinks that Luz also She, a famed activist for the illegals.
Machete is approached by nefarious individual to take part in an assassination. When Machete shows up for the gig, he finds out that Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) is the target. McLaughlin has made a name for himself with the grandstanding statements of running all the illegals out of Texas. Soon all the tables are turned and Machete is blamed for the attempted assassination, something he decided not to do.
Machete must call in for help from a Padre (Cheech Marin), Sartana and Luz. Thrown into the mix is April (Lindsay Lohan) a debutante with an eye for being in-front of video cameras. Don Johnson plays a boarder agent who just enjoys killing illegals. The great Tom Savini is charged with the role of hit man who must take down Machete before he can foil all the plans made by all the bad guys.
The film has so many different threads that it almost loses its way as it un-spools across the silver screen. There are so many rotten apples with so many different agendas that it is almost too complicated for its own good. Robert Rodriguez and Alvaro Rodriguez have crafted so many crazed moments and crazy characters that any sense of logic is out the window. Many of the characters are playing caricatures, chewing scene after scene. Both De Niro and Don Johnson seem to be having a blast doing such broadly drawn individuals.
The biggest complaint of Machete is with the politics that drive the feature. It makes all of those who cross the border as noble beings just striving for a better life. The truth about illegal immigration isn't as black and white as Robert Rodriguez and Alvaro Rodriguez make it in their screenplay. It has a very simplistic world view on an issue with many different aspects, none of them easily solved.
The other problem is with the violence. It is played in such graphic novel tones that death and dismemberment are punch lines. While the intended audience will eat these antics with a golden spoon, it may be just a bit too much for the average movie fan.
Danny Trejo just owns the role of Machete. He is super cool and totally butt-kicking. Though not a traditional action hero, he comes across as the peoples champion. He is all snarl and menace, dropping punch after punch with a deadpan glee.
Both Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba have been playing similar characters for a number of years. They have mastered all the nuances of the role but neither takes a chance here. This is a mans world and they are more there for showing flesh. Lindsay Lohan is more naked window dressing in the smallest of parts.
Directors Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis keep the action flying and the stunts rolling, much to the chagrin of their plot. In one scene, Machete uses intestines to escape from capture, all played for laughs. This is such a stylized exercise of mayhem that does appeal to the more basic instincts, checking one's head at the door and wallowing in the destruction of flesh.
The Grindhouse audience will sop this one up, being repeat viewers. It may be a bit too much for those not familiar with this violent genre. Machete delivers just exactly the audience wants, gallons upon gallon of blood.