There was a film last year that I appreciated quite a bit that was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which didn’t quite make fun of the action genre in the same way Robert Rodriquez’s Machete does, but in the same way both films incorporate a tone in the violence, a sheer thrill and recklessness of what blade is going where, who’s firing what gun, and what 66 year old former prisoner is riding an explosion while firing a Gatling gun mounted to a motorcycle that I can’t help but appreciate. Robert Rodriquez’s “Machete” breaks a lot of borders on its own terms when it comes to the action genre, but at the same time it doesn’t redefine anything, which is exactly what I wanted from this gloriously violent, trashy, and beautifully campy action film. Machete takes place in modern day inside of a near-border Texas city, years after the murder of his family, a ruthless former cop named “Machete” (Danny Trejo) has to take on his wife’s murderer (Steven Seagal), along with the men who set him up to die, a corrupt politician (Robert De Niro) and his seedy minion (Jeff Fahey). The film delights itself in camp, but part of the reason the film is so undeniably enjoy is its 80s movie style diverse cast. Danny Trejo leads the film as Machete with a determined squint that could break cinder blocks, and definitely sells the idea that he’s, well, insanely undefeatable. Robert De Niro and Don Johnson star as two of the film’s major villains, a politician and a border patrol guard respectively, and both play their parts like it’s natural to them to just be sleazeballs. De Niro gets a few scenes especially that bring some of the film’s best intentional unintentional hilarity. Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriquez carry the “leading lady” torches of the movie, and both perform admirably, the latter proving her action chops in some ah-mazing shots towards the end of the film (eyepatches make everything better). Lindsey Lohan does have a small part in the film, but her role is pretty much useless to anything the film is trying to do and even for a “fake” film she’s still pretty awful. Steven Seagal makes the true best of what’s been his first film appearance in almost a decade, and both Jeff Fahey and Cheech Marin have some moments in the film that practically define its attitude of “crazy yet awesome”.
As mentioned earlier, the film strongly puts on an accent of camp. The film is entirely based off of a Grindhouse trailer from the team-up between Rodriquez and Tarantino two years ago, and is basically making fun of the cliched action films of “one man on a mission to murder everybody”. The film gladly accepts these stereotypes and ratchets them up a thousand times, with absurd conversations between characters that at times almost breaks the fourth wall, characters that are practically caricatures, and action scenes that are knowingly insane. Machete isn’t ashamed of it, it takes pride in it, and gladly throws you into the joyful madness of it all. Once you get into the spirit of things and realize what this film is (which should be easy to do after watching the trailer), the film becomes impossible to not enjoy. While the film does become reckless fun quick, it does have what you might call a steep learning curve to it. The first 20 minutes of the movie contain some of the fiercest violence and coarsest material of the entire movie, and will turn some immediately off from the rest of the film. If it’s not your niche, you’ll quickly learn it’s not your niche. There were some moments in the first few scenes of the film that I was convinced I hated it, that is before it gets into the groove of its own joke. Machete is a “bad” film, but it’s just a really good “bad” film.
Rodriquez displayed a pretty good sense of action in this year’s Predators (although I wasn’t entirely impressed with that film), but all of his creative energy in directing action for the past 18 years shows in Machete. Rodriquez gets some crazy good action shots in for the film, from the hand-to-hand to the hydraulic-car-to-guy’s-face. Every action scene is elaborately staged and is completely self-aware, beautifully set in Rodriquez’s mind and gorgeously executed by the blade of Machete. There’s one particular action piece set inside a church with Mr. Marin himself that inspired wonder in my film-going heart, not to mention the Steven Seagal/Machete sword fight. The movie also contains a love for horrific violence. Quite possibly the most violent film I’ve ever seen, Machete (without being too explicit in my description) will make you look at wine bottle openers, weed eaters, and well, machetes, in a whole new light. If there’s anything else that you could deem “wrong” about Machete as a whole, it’s the way Rodriquez goes about with a message of the film. I’m all for teaching an audience a lesson, but Rodriquez’s influence of teaching his audience about tolerance of the illegal immigration laws and what not, while enlightening, doesn’t really belong in the film. It’s like if they played “An Inconvenient Truth” at the end of a monster truck rally, some will appreciate it and learn from it, but it just doesn’t fit in the context. All in all Machete is exactly the film I was hoping to see. It’s a gloriously violent satire of the action genre that will make you laugh and stare in awe as Rodriquez poignantly highlights the conventions and cliches of the action genre, even if it comes with a message that’s not necessarily warranted and while impressing some, turning those away that weren’t going to get the joke in the first place.
3 out of 4