Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Machete: Grade A

Machete (2010)

Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Steven Segal, Don Johnson, Robert De Niro, Cheech Marin, Jeff Fahey, Lindsay Lohan; Co-writer and co-director Robert Rodriguez. (Spanish and English, with subtitles).

Trejo is Machete, a violent, machete-wielding, Mexican police officer, expert at decapitations, who was double-crossed by a drug lord (Segal). His wife is murdered before his eyes and he is beaten, stabbed, and left for dead in a burning building in Mexico. But like Bruce Willis in the Die-Hard series, Machete can’t really be killed, or even seriously injured. He survives and escapes to Texas as an illegal day laborer. There, a shady lawyer (Fahey) hires him to kill a U.S. Senator (DeNiro), but he is double-crossed on that deal too and again barely escapes with his life.

It turns out the senator is actually in the employ of the drug lord, manipulated by his chief of staff, and in cahoots with murderous border vigilantes. But Machete finds allies in “The Network,” an implausible group of legal and illegal Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who are ready for armed revolution, led by a young, attractive woman who runs a taco truck (Michelle Rodriquez), and from an equally unlikely ICE agent (Alba), working alone to track down The Network, then Machete, then the Minutemen, then the Senator’s aide, then the drug lord. After an hour and a half of nonstop knives, gore, cars, guns, and breasts, the world is made right again.

The violence is intentionally ludicrous, a comic form following Tarentino’s Kill Bill. (Rodriquez and Tarantino have collaborated in the past). This film alludes to the violent and vulgar exploitation movies of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, in the US and Australia, so there is the faux scratchy film stock and many of the same cinematic and dialogic conventions, but I don’t think this is supposed to be one of those films. This movie is very self-conscious, to the point of irony, about its violence, and even the vulgar language and gratuitous female nudity is comic-ironic. So I classify it as a comedy, despite its theme of blood and violence. The final gun battle should be proof enough of that, when a fleet of low-rider cars with jumping hydraulics attacks the bad guys’ fort. I think this movie is part of an emerging genre, the comedic, ironic slasher movie, “slashironcom”.

Besides great stunts, creative photography, and comedic violence, Machete also has a serious political message, namely that US immigration policy is ineffective, unfair, and small-minded, even though the US economically depends on illegal labor, and so immigration policy should be overhauled. It’s a message I happen to agree with, and although it is delivered with hyperbole, I’m glad to see it out there.

Casting is a notable feature of this movie. Trejo is a big, mean-looking, scar-faced tough guy, reminiscent of Mickey Rourke in some of his roles. That’s interesting. DeNiro may have been in the film for political reasons, but it is always a pleasure to see him. Alba and M. Rodriguez are easy on the eyes, but look too much alike to both be playing alpha females. Alba’s role however is courageous for her, and may be a career changer, from just another pretty face to someone with ideas and commitment. Segal is an unintentionally humorous self-parody, especially when he knife-fights Trejo. Lohan, in a tiny role, is so vacant that she evokes only sympathy. Cheech Marin is a standout as a priest who puts aside his vow of nonviolence. For viewers who are not freaked out by (fake) blood and unrelenting (fake) violence, this film is a pleasure, start to finish.

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