Machete probably don’t read reviews – so I’m safe
Dir. Ethan Maniquis & Robert Rodriguez
Runtime: 105 minutes
Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Don Johnson, Jeff Fahey, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin
In 2007 Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino made the “Grindhouse” double-feature, which brought audiences “Planet Terror” (2007) and “Death Proof” (2007). Hidden within “Grindhouse” was a fake trailer for “Machete”, which starred Danny Trejo as a bad-ass Mexican Federal, turned vigilante. This was not the first time that Trejo had appeared as a character called Machete in a Rodriguez feature, he also played Machete in the “Spy Kids” franchise too (2001 – 2011). Although I have not seen the Spy Kids films, I can imagine that while the character has the same name, the themes within the different Rodriguez features are completely different, one being a family friendly comedy action series, the other being a trashy exploitative B-Movie.
Machete Cortez (Trejo) has had a rough time of late, while working on a case his partner is killed, then the target he was after is killed (but not before stabbed him in the leg), he is betrayed by his corrupt Chief who gives him to a powerful drug lord called Torrez (Steven Seagal). Torrez kills Machete’s wife, promises to kill his daughter, and then leaves Machete for dead. Fast-forward 3 years and his life is not much better, he is making a living as best as he can doing odd-jobs and gardening. For a moment though, his luck might be able to change. He is approached by a businessman, Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), with a proposition – well, more a threat. He is tasked with killing Texas State Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) who has secretly being deporting hundreds of illegal immigrants. Of course, if Machete refuses the job, Booth will just have him killed there and then. Remember when I said his luck was only about to momentarily change? Well, that is because it is all a big set up – McLaughlin will not be killed, Machete will be framed, the media will get behind the story of a Mexican taking a shot at the senator, and ultimately McLaughlin will be lorded over.
Machete is a wanted man – the law wants him; Torrez, Booth and McLaughlin want him, as does a whole host of bad guys. Soon enough too, Machete is hunted by a persistent US Immigration and Customers Enforcement Agent, Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba). He is also hunted by hitman Osiris Amanpour (Tom Savini) who is hired by Booth. Thankfully though, Machete is not out of ideas yet, through Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) he might still be able to find a mysterious rebel leader called “Shé” for help. Machete can also call on Padre, his “holy” brother (Cheech Marin) for support. With nothing left to do but fight for his life and his freedom – bad guys beware – Machete is focused on retribution and revenge.
Although a joint venture in directing between Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, the Machete character can be credited to Rodriguez alone. In 1995 while making the “Desperado” film Rodriguez was impressed with Trejo and knew then that sometime in the future he would make a film which had Trejo as the lead role.
“When I met Danny, I said, ‘This guy should be like the Mexican Jean-Claude Van Damme or Charles Bronson, putting out a movie every year and his name should be Machete.”
Trejo does not disappoint. His character is an adrenaline fueled, hard-as-nails, mean and nasty, S.O.B. that also manages to fluidly transform into a Lothario when it is required too. Trejo was 64 years old when he played this part, but he still played it like a younger, more spritely man. Sure, his weathered appearance has made him look old throughout his career, but to me he still looks the same as when he first came to my attention in film through the 1990’s.
The supporting cast around Trejo are great too. Having featured in the “Grindhouse” trailer it was nice to see Cheech Marin and Jeff Fahey return for the feature length version. Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba’s characters in the film are far from eye-candy, both are strong women that play their own part in the film, which are delivered with good performances. The bad guys in the film, played by the likes of Seagal, De Niro, Savini, Fahey, and Don Johnson, all feel a bit comic in their delivery, but executed well all the same. In fact, it’s not just them that feel comic, a lot of the time as the film ventures on and different things happen, or random characters appear – it sometimes feels like this is actually an animated cartoon that’s been brought to life. The film does not take itself too seriously and there are times when the performances by the actors is gritty and authentic; but equally, there are times when a knowing look at the camera is intended to directly talk the audience about how ludicrous this who thing is too. The balance is maintained well.
As you might expect if you have seen the other “Grindhouse” films, this is intended to be a tongue-in-cheek, schlock, B-Movie, semi-exploitative film which pays homage to the “sex and violence” films that came out between 1960 and 1980. It ticks all those boxes and is a fun film with a lot of over the top and bonkers action, a simple enough story which is still engaging, and has some lovely technical work behind the camera to make this look and feel in fitting with its “Grindhouse” tag. I found it impossible to sit through this with a straight face – I was either open mouth with amazement at what I have seen, or I was struggling to breath as I laughed uncontrollably. This is more a comedy than a horror film, it is more Mexpolitation than exploitation, its… err… well, not for everybody, but for the audience that it is for, it will be loved.
Yes, this is a cheese fest – but it is meant to be. Leave your brain at the door and just watch a random bat-sh!t crazy action film that harps back to some of the cheesy films of the late 1900’s in design and delivery. If the unkillable Machete is angry, you better hope it wasn’t you who angered him, or you might find he uses your intestines to write an angry letter 😀