Directed by Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez.
Starring Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson and Tom Savini.
Machete has been betrayed after a drugs bust in Mexico. Now an illegal immigrant in America, he is forced to confront those who left him for dead.
Machete was once a trailer, fudged between the edited versions of Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. I was lucky enough to see this Grindhouse project at the cinema. It was ambitious and deliriously fun. Both cut down versions were better than their separate, longer theatrical releases. It’s the same with Machete.
It wasn’t even the best trailer. Edgar Wright’s Don’t had the best use of a voice over man, whilst Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving had the best line delivery (a detective tests a pool of liquid – “It’s blood… son of a bitch”). Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS could well have had Nicolas Cage’s best role. The trailer for Machete, also directed by Rodriquez, was flat in comparison.
Due to the man’s work ethic, and that he’d already written a script back in 1993 for it, Rodriguez’s Machete was to be made into its very own film. The full versions of both the previous Grindhouse films were bloated (bar Death Proof’s lap dance scene). Machete suffers from this even more. It was a lot more fun as an average trailer. Extending it to 101 minutes is somewhat self-indulgent.
Machete is about an ex-Mexican policeman, Machete (Danny Trejo) who’s double-crossed at the film’s beginning. Rogelio Torrez (Steven Seagal), a powerful drug lord, beheads Machete’s wife before him, and leaves him to die in a burning house. The story then jumps three years to where Machete is an illegal immigrant in Texas. He keeps a low profile, but there’s an immigration officer, Sartana (Jessica Alba), patrolling the streets. Machete is hired to assassinate Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) by his campaign adviser, Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey – pilot guy from Lost), because McLaughlin wants to ban all immigration. That’s bad for business, Booth points out. It’s all a set up though, to make McLaughlin look good to the voters and to demonise illegal immigrants from Mexico. Booth frames Machete.
Luckily, there’s an underground Mexican resistance called The Network that helps Machete, headed by Luz (Michelle Rodriguez – also briefly from Lost). Sartana ends up helping Machete. There’s a gazillion other characters too, which is perfectly fine, but there’s no coordination between them. Disorganisation works for the good guys because the odds should be against them. But the bad guys need to be an unstoppable force, and only turn on each other when things get desperate near the end. Machete has some five main antagonists, and they’re all off doing their own things. It’s exhausting and contributes to one of the film’s main flaws – it has no focus.
Machete also seems to follow the same structure for each scene:
1) Characters enter a room.
2) A potential weapon (corkscrew/scalpel/Steven Seagal) is shown in close up.
3) The bad guys attack.
4) Machete gets whatever was shown in 2).
5) Machete kills everyone.
The first few times this works well. The best instance is early on when Machete uses a man’s intestines as rope to crash through a window on the floor below. Shortly before, a doctor had (quite clunkily) pointed out that a human’s intestines are about 60 feet long. “That’s 10 times our own height,” explains a nearby (sexy) nurse, like the wooden delivery in a school science video. Fun the first time. Tiresome after a few.
Chastising Machete is difficult. Not because it’s good, but because the film has its own disclaimer to fend off such criticism. Machete is a homage/parody of the exploitative, low-budget Grindhouse films of the 70s, so saying it has a sloppy or repetitive narrative can be inverted as praise for how faithful the film is to its source material. If you have a genuine nostalgia for Grindhouse films, then this is worthy defence. But chances are that you don’t. Exploitation films, and, more specifically, the Grindhouse theatres in which they were exhibited, are a very niche field. There isn’t a vastly shared audience out there, so most fans are presumably working with stolen nostalgia. It worked for Planet Terror and Death Proof because they were fresh, funny and well made. It could have worked for Werewolf Women of the SS because it’s the most awesome premise that Cage has yet to make. Machete, however, isn’t and wasn’t. For all its sex and violence, it’s an astoundingly boring film.
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