Starring: Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez, Steven Segal, Jeff Fahey, Lindsay Lohan, Cheech Marin
Director: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis
Writer: Alvaro Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez
Cinematography: Jimmy Lindsay
Original Score: John Debney, Carl Thiel
Running Time: 105 mins.
As any self-respecting film fan (read geek!) will know Danny Trejo has long featured as the token mexican hard-ass in many a blockbuster movie, whether it be the high-octane action of Con Air or a brutal and gritty thriller like Heat, however it is undoubtedly thanks to Robert Rodriguez that Trejo came to prominence in the first place and continues to plough ahead with the same old schtick that is obviously crowd-pleasing and hardly a stretch in equal measure, a career that, perhaps inevitably, reached its peak with a faux-trailer tacked onto the Rodriguez/Tarantino failure that was Grindhouse for a film known simply as Machete.
Machete seemingly forged closer to the Grindhouse roots than either Planet Terror or Death proof did with its overblown action, extreme violence, overt sex scenes and sexuality as well as badly written characters (stereotypes at best) headed up by the monosyllabic Mexican known only as the titular Machete, the perfect starring role that could only possibly ever be played by a certain Mexican brute of an actor… So given this is likely the only chance Trejo will get to play the main man credit where credits due to Rodriguez for giving the guy his biggest break and spinning the faux-trailer into a substantial (I use that term loosely) full length motion picture that could happily sit alongside Planet Terror and DeathProof as the Grindhouse hokum of the noughties that they want to be, with this mantra though machete also comes with all the flaws that it’s forebear’s had.
It is not a bad film, at least not unintentionally, there is a great deal of hokum to be laughed at within and some fairly well shot and executed action scenes but the whole exercise is underpinned by a god-awful plot that is both too complex and far too crammed with point-less scenes and contrivances that much of the fun has been undermined and the tacky Grindhouse aesthetic becomes jarring against some of the apparent attempts at making a serious comment of immigration and racism. It is true that the Grindhouse films of old dealt with racism often but it was always integrated proper;y, that is to say tongue-in-cheek and tacky as you like, whereas here points are hammered home a little too sincerely at times and delivered as a punch-line at others, a tactic which fails in its entirety.
The other fault comes in the over-plotting, one which makes room for far too many characters, particularly in the villain department, leaving no space for fleshing any of them out, the plot itslef is far too convoluted to try to explain briefly (if at all!) suffice to say there’s corruption, followed by double-cross followed by corruption amongst a plethora of big names filling the bad guy boots ranging from De Niro (in comedy OTT mode) to Segal by way of Fahey and even Don Johnson. The saving grace is that they all play up to the concept and Fahey in particular is good fun as is Segal looking far too fat to be fighting with a samurai sword. De Niro isn’t nearly as bad as some reviews would have you believe, though he is meant to be “bad” in more than one sense in the spirit of the film, but where villainous shortcomings can be overlooked the lack of substance of any sort to the hero is downright unforgivable.
Trejo is a fine actor, one need only watch Heat, or more recently Sherrybaby, for evidence of this but Rodriguez has desperately failed to give the character any heft beside a great selection of weaponry and a couple of one-liners “Machete don’t text” being one of them, make of that what you will but I can’t help but feel here the director is more interested in the socio-political subtext than giving his man an all out starring role, sadly Trejo is not an actor who can be charismatic and nigh on wordless, something which means seeing the endless parade of sexy and largely naked women fall for him more credibility stretching than even the Grindhouse movement used to ask in its heyday. Thankfully there is just enough to stop the urge to check your watch, a sense of fun that usually manages to over-ride the weaker aspects in spite of themselves and an amusingly bad turn by Lindsay Lohan married with some of the most gruesome and ingenious kills of the past decade make Machete better than Tarantino’s Death Proof but not as good as Planet Terror in resurrecting the Grindhouse aesthetic.
Sadly Machete leaves Trejo out to dry in the face of some dire and misplaced socio-political ideas and a seriously bad case of over-plotting, hard to reccomend but hard to diss too much in the face of what the film is meant to be for exploitative entertainment.