‘Machete’ will likely appeal to Tarantino fans

If you’re a lover of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino films, and if you went ga-ga for their combined Grindhouse flicks a few years ago, then Machete will prove to be a hoot and a half.

Danny Trejo plays the title character, an ex-Federale from Mexico who is lying low along the southern border of the United States. He’s got vengeance on his mind and blood on his hands, but he needs to play by the rules and keep a low profile. However, after watching his wife’s decapitation at the hands of a crime lord named Torrez (Steven Seagal … yes, Steven Seagal), Machete is hurting for some payback.

The revenge story line is set amidst a satirical arc concerning illegal immigration and how politicians confront the issue of a fence along the Mexican border. Robert De Niro plays Sen. McLaughlin, a ruthless conservative who has no qualms shooting immigrants from the back of a pickup truck. Don Johnson plays Von, a mercenary who helps McLaughlin with bloodbath.

Jessica Alba plays Sartana, an official with the U.S. Immigration Service, while Michelle Rodriguez plays Luz, a taco vendor who moonlights as a secret leader of an underground social movement. Cheech Marin plays Machete’s brother, Padre Cortez, a Roman Catholic priest, and Lindsay Lohan turns up as the daughter of Booth (Jeff Fahey of Lost fame), McLaughlin’s right-hand political man.

The movie is a bona fide murder spree. There are more dismembered body parts and blown-up set pieces than most films I’ve ever seen. Rodriguez, who co-directed and co-wrote the movie, seems to be in love with the many intricate ways that blood can be spilled. And, to be honest, the ultra violence fits with the overall Grindhouse feel to the movie.

One is not looking for Shakespeare when buying a ticket to a movie named after a sharp object.

The flick’s origins apparently date back before Rodriguez’s earlier films, but the concept stayed dormant for years. Then, as one of the trailers on the Grindhouse double bill a few years ago, audiences wanted to see Trejo come to life as Machete. And thus, the legend was born.

Trejo does a nice job of not overplaying the part. He’s not only a badass guy, shooting people and taking names, but he tries to layer each of his attacks with a sense of justice, like Robin Hood, but no tights. But, who’s kidding who? Machete earns his nickname, through and through.

The movie is perhaps a little too close to Tarantino’s cinematic output. The stylized vengeance flick was best seen in the Kill Bill series and even Inglorioius Basterds. There’s even similarities in Rodriguez using actors who haven’t seen the limelight in years (Johnson and Seagal, in particular). Tarantino, of course, did that to brilliant effect with Pam Grier in Jackie Brown and David Carradine in Kill Bill.

But Rodriguez, who co-directs with Ethan Maniquis, is able to cloak the entire story in a topical debate on the ongoing struggle of Mexican immigrants to receive validity and respect on the national scale.

So, yes, it’s all about blood splatters here and decapitated heads there, but there is a social backbone to the film. However, Rodriguez pulls that backbone out, lassos it around his head and chucks into a fiery inferno of blood, guts and violence.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Machete
  • 2010
  • Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis
  • Written by Rodriguez and Álvaro Rodríguez
  • Starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez, Steven Seagal, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson and Lindsay Lohan
  • Running time: 105 minutes
  • Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity
  • Rating: ★★★☆

Revised

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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