By Don Simpson | September 3, 2010
Director: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis (co-director)
Writers: Robert Rodriguez, Álvaro Rodríguez
Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan
The film opens as the titular Mexican Federale, Machete (Danny Trejo), is double-crossed by his commanding officer and thus witnesses the brutal murder of his family at the hands of Torrez (Steven Seagal), Mexico’s grand drug lord. Machete next appears as a day laborer in Texas where he is approached by Booth (Jeff Fahey) and offered a hefty sum of $150,000 to assassinate the xenophobic Texas Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). (McLaughlin has been running campaign advertisements denouncing illegal immigrants as parasites and roaches – the Senator’s friends include crazed Minuteman and self-proclaimed boarder guard, Lt. Stillman [Don Johnson].)
Booth is actually on McLaughlin’s payroll and is also associated with Torrez. The assassination job is merely a set-up, sending Machete on the run as an outlaw. Machete befriends Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who runs a taco truck for day laborers by day and is the freedom fighter SHE – leader of The Network – by night. Luz/SHE recruits Machete, or maybe Machete recruits her? Nonetheless, they are a team now. Sexy ICE Agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) also takes a liking to Machete and subsequently joins the cause to dismantle McLaughlin’s campaign of hatred and end Torrez’s reign of terror.
Yet another throwback to the glory days of late night exploitation Grindhouse cinema (ala Planet Terror and Death Proof), Machete relentlessly dishes out violence, camp and gratuitous nudity. The flimsy plot, cheesy dialogue, over-the-top violence and sexy ladies may be extremely faithful to the Grindhouse genre, but the cinematography and editing are far from it. As an example of referential cinema, I was quite unimpressed with Machete’s aesthetics.
Machete’s biggest fault is that it juggles way too many characters. It felt like writer-director-producer Rodriguez was just trying to find excuses to cast Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan and Daryl Sabara in this film. Their roles are all unnecessary and seem to work in opposition to the casting philosophy of Grindhouse cinema. To be honest, the iconic Danny Trejo should have appeared in every single frame of Machete – Robert De Niro and Michelle Rodriguez were also shamefully underutilized. (If you are going to cast De Niro in such a scene-chomping role, please give him more screen time!)
The overt political message is most surprising to me. Machete is a clever and witty diatribe against the numskull ass-backward politics behind Arizona’s 1070 (note: the script began over fifteen years ago and filming commenced prior to the news of Arizona’s 1070). Rodriguez accentuates his position by propagating the screen with a cast (and off-screen crew) comprised of an incredibly talented array of Latinos.