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Monday, May 2, 2011

Machete (2010)

Starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan, Robert DeNiro
Written by Robert Rodriguez and Alvaro Rodriguez
Music by John Debney and Carl Thiel

Look at that cast - Trejo in his first starring role! DeNiro as a sleazy right-wing senator! Alba, Rodriguez (and even Lohan) in various stages of undress! Johnson, Marin, Fahey and Seagal all together (along with makeup legend Tom Savini, for God's sake)! Look at the concept - Trejo, a former Mexican Federale (apparently an awesome Mexican version of a SWAT member/FBI agent/commando/whatever-else-hardarse there is rolled into one), is hired to assassinate racist senator John McLaughlin (DeNiro) but finds he is framed for the shooting and ends up taking bloody revenge. Look at some of the scenes - decapitations, stabbings, bloody shootings, disembowlments, and a cavalcade of other atrocities!

So why didn't I love this like I should have?

Machete had some compelling arguments about the US/Mexico immigration situation

It's an extremely messy film. After a beautifully executed opening scene which introduces us to a kick-arse Machete and his arch-rival (drug lord Torrez played by a ballooning Seagal) which involves plenty of gratuitous gore and nudity in the classic grindhouse tradition, I was all set for a brainless romp. Unfortunately there are way too many characters and subplots which are either messily tied together or, in the case of a few characters, not at all. This should have been a straightforward revenge film, but instead we get tortuous scenes involving a lifeless Alba as an immigration official, and way too much stuff about the US/Mexico immigration situation which, apt as it might be for the setting, gets in the way of Rodriguez producing a braindead action-fest. And the film never reaches the heights of the opening scene. In fact, the finale is so lackluster you might have thought that the budget had run out halfway through the film and everyone was just going through the motions without a paycheck.

Machete started as a fake trailer for the Rodriguez/Tarantino two-parter Grindhouse. That's where it probably should have stayed. The trailer was glorious. It speculated on a film that was never meant to be; the rest of it could have been played out in our heads and that would have been fine. But in adhering to what has come before in the fake trailer, Machete itself feels hamstrung. Even the memorable shot of Machete jumping a motorcycle equipped with a mini-gun which worked so well in the trailer falls flat in the feature film.

The CGI Steven Seagal was done quite well, almost as good as Gollum

Rodriguez needed to simplify, bring Machete back to the basics: Trejo maiming people indiscriminately, and seeking bloody justice against a cache of scumbags. When he does this in the film, it's done reasonably well. Unfortunately there's a lot of other needless stuff getting in the way. It's not terrible, it's just not what it could (and should) have been, considering the talent involved.

Best bit
the opening scene where Machete raids a house

Iconic moment
should have been the motorcycle-with-minigun-jump but I'd actually go with the hospital-intestine jump

Worst bit
Jessica Alba's cringeworthy speech

Best line
"Machete don't text"

Best performance
Danny Trejo - stony-faced, dispensing justice with nary a quip

again, Danny Trejo, finally getting top billing after years of supporting roles

What would have made this better
cut out Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan and probably even Don Johnson's characters, streamline the story, weave the illegal immigration debate more subtly into the story, amp up the finale

What would have made this worse
cut out Machete's character altogether and focus on the adventures of Jessica Alba's immigration character

Companion film
Spy Kids...seriously, look it up

What to watch instead
for a proper faux-grindhouse experience, Hobo with a Shotgun

If you liked this...
you should probably watch the two-parter Grindhouse for the complete experience if you haven't already

+ Trejo, Seagal, DeNiro, Fahey, Rodriguez, Marin and Savini all in the same film
+ some action scenes are nicely executed
+ there's plenty of blood, guts and boobs for the discerning viewer
+ Trejo getting a starring role

- the final fight between Machete and Torrez falls flat, as does the entire finale for that matter
- too much of Jessica Alba's character
- Lindsay Lohan's character and her "revelation" feels ridiculous and out of place
- too many characters and subplots, not enough revenge
- heavy-handed messages about illegal immigration
- loses pace and energy after the first half hour or so

Rating on the William Sanderson/Jessie Lee Kane level of grindhouse sleaziness:

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