Thursday, October 28, 2010
Director: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis
Cast: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba
Jeff Fahey, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan
Shea Wigham, Don Johnson, Robert de Niro
For a movie that has Jessica Alba playing a U.S. Immigration officer, Cheech Marin as a gun toting priest and Danny Trejo as a sex symbol, Machete sure is less fun than it promises.
Adapted from the faux trailer that came with 2007's Grindhouse, the film expands the basic premise of "man seeking revenge" and turns it into a full on blood and guts extravaganza with a message.
The film follows Machete (Trejo), a Mexican Federal betrayed by the force and hunted by the evil druglord Torrez (Seagal) who also killed his family.
Years later, while working illegally in the States, he's approached by a mysterious man (Fahey) who blackmails him to have him kill anti-immigration US Senator John McLaughlin (De Niro). He's betrayed once again and realizes that getting payback might get him closer to avenging his family.
If the basic plot is essentially the exploitative premise from the trailer, the film itself is a convoluted mess of cinematic references, more subplots than it can handle and a distasteful social message.
It doesn't take much to realize that the whole idea of this Machete is to make a comment on the preposterous position some American government officials have taken towards immigration.
The film grabs these, mostly Republican, beings and turns them into monsters like Sen. McLaughlin who enjoys shooting "wetbacks", taping it and then getting donations from people who get a kick out of watching this.
Yet for every monster cliché he can get, Rodríguez also delivers a heroic counterpart. Therefore we have She (pronounced Che and played by Rodríguez) a humble young woman who runs a taco stand by day and leads a resistance movement by night.
The idea of her counterrevolutionary methods isn't as out of place as the fact that she is shaped after one of the most controversial figures in history. Throughout the whole movie the director can't help but wink at us letting us know almost everything is referencing something else.
Hence we have Lohan playing a drug addict gone good, Johnson as the kind of corrupt creature he would've been fighting against in Miami Vice and Alba as a police officer who's both capable of beating the crap out of a gang but also has time to strike sexy poses while she showers.
If the idea behind Machete was to pay homage to the B movies that shaped it, Rodríguez seems to have forgotten that these movies were usually happy accidents and never strategically manufactured products.
These movies became legendary because they eventually came to represent something for people; whether it was female liberation, anti war movements or just plain old fashioned anti-establishment agendas, these movies originally were made just for fun.
Yet everything here is winking at something, recurring to cheap stunt casting or trying to preach about immigration.
It's here when the movie gets confusing, because when you try to deliver an important message about society it's risky to say the only people who can get it solved are murderous, vengeance-seeking outlaws. This could result hilarious to people in on the joke but might easily shock those who oppose the ideas the movie's against.
Rodríguez can't have his social message cake and eat it too!
This is why Machete often feels dull as a butter knife even when it pretends to be completely sharp.