Friday, September 10, 2010

Machete

BLOGGER'S NOTE: This post originally appeared on Edward Copeland's snazzy blog, Edward Copeland on Film. He and a very impressive collection of writers post daily ruminations on film, T.V. and loads of other cool stuff.

When he made his half of the Grindhouse double bill (2007), Robert Rodriguez also put together a trailer for a film he would like to see. And so, Machete (2010) was born – a Mexploitation action film about an ex-federale who is set-up, double-crossed and left for dead. However, the origins for this project go back even further to 1995 when Rodriguez made Desperado, the second film in his Mariachi trilogy. It would be the first time (but certainly not the last) he worked with veteran character actor and professional badass Danny Trejo. He’s someone you’ve probably not heard of but have definitely seen. If you need a tough-looking tattooed henchman, he’s your man. While working on Desperado, Rodriguez envisioned Trejo starring in a series of action films as Machete but at that time the director did not have the clout to get someone to bankroll a Latino action film that didn’t feature someone with movie star looks like Antonio Banderas.


Rodriguez never forgot about his pet project and over the years cast Trejo in several of his films. Even though the Grindhouse films were a commercial failure, audiences loved the faux trailer for Machete. Rodriguez managed to convince a Hollywood studio to finance it with a modest budget and used his connections to assemble an impressive cast that included the likes of Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, and “introducing” Don Johnson. However, what worked as a movie trailer be too much of a good thing as a feature film?

The prologue sets up everything we need to know about Machete (Danny Trejo) – he’s a badass Mexican federale set-up by his corrupt superior and left for dead by local druglord Torrez (Steven Seagal). It also sets just the right tone as we see Machete hacking and slashing his way through a house of bad guys with bloody abandon. Meanwhile, in the United States, a corrupt, ultra-conservative Texan senator named John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), campaigns on a platform of preventing illegal immigrants from crossing the border. He even employs a border vigilante group, led by the brutal Von Jackson (Don Johnson), to enforce his policies.

Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba) is an upstanding Immigrations enforcement officer investigating the problem through legal channels and ends up crossing paths with Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a no-nonsense taco stand operator who moonlights as a revolutionary operating an underground railroad of sorts for her Mexican brothers and sisters. Machete, now a day laborer (or, at least that’s his cover), is hired by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), a local businessman, to kill the Senator for $150,000. Machete is set up, shot and forced to go into hiding. With the help of Rivera and Luz, he plots revenge on the men that betrayed him.

It’s awesome to see Danny Trejo finally get to carry a film for once and play a character that doesn’t get killed off. He brings his customary intensity as the strong, silent man of action and in many respects the film is Rodriguez’s present to the actor as he has him take down tons of bad guys, look cool doing it, and hook up with many of the film’s lovely ladies, including Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan! Robert De Niro is a lot of fun to watch playing a John McCain meets George W. Bush-esque xenophobic politician. It’s also great to see Steven Seagal as a powerful criminal and Machete’s arch-nemesis, not to mention appearing in a mainstream film that didn’t go straight-to-home video.

Michelle Rodriguez adds another tough chick role to her resume as she portrays the female Mexican equivalent of Che Guevara but with a dash of Snake Plissken from Escape from New York (1981). Another fun bit of casting is Lindsay Lohan playing the messed up celebutante child of Booth. She and Rodriguez have some fun riffing on her public persona and kudos to the director for not bowing to peer and public pressure about her party girl reputation and showing that regardless, she still has the acting chops. Rodriguez regulars Tom Savini and Cheech Marin show up in memorable bit parts as a deadly assassin and Machete’s ex-federale now-priest brother.

It’s no secret that Rodriguez is a filmmaker that wears his influences on his sleeve. For examples, Desperado was a homage to the Hong Kong action films of John Woo and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and Planet Terror (2007) evoked the films of John Carpenter and George Romero. Growing up in the 1980s, Machete is Rodriguez’s love letter to the films produced by Cannon Films during that decade. They were responsible for cranking out an endless stream of generic action films starring the likes of Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris and Michael Dudikoff. In these films, the action stars were often a one-man army capable of wiping out the fighting force of a small country seemingly single-handedly. The same goes for Machete who is an unstoppable killing machine bent on revenge.

Machete is full of outrageous, over-the-top violence and inventively staged action sequences, like one scene where Machete bungee-jumps from one floor of a hospital to another with the aid of an evil henchman’s large intestine. In this respect, the film has the same gonzo, go-for-broke action that Rodriguez orchestrated in the underrated Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003). Living up to his namesake, Machete finds all sorts of ways to kill the bad guys with a vast assortment of sharp weapons. Machete is a lot of fun and never outstays its welcome as Rodriguez knows how to keep things moving so that things never get boring.

Machete not only features all kinds of wild action sequences but also has something on its mind, commenting on the rampant immigration problems that continue to plague the states along the United States/Mexico border. Along the way, Rodriguez plays up and makes fun of Latino stereotypes (they are all day laborers and love tricked out cars) only to twist them into a rallying cry, a call for revolution that takes full bloom by the film’s exciting conclusion in a way that has to be seen to be believed. Best of all, Rodriguez has created yet another awesome Latino action hero. Forget Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables (2010), Machete is the real deal and a no-holds-barred love letter to ‘80s action films. As great as it was to see many of the beloved action stars from the ‘80s and 1990s, I felt that Stallone’s film never went far enough. Rodriguez’s film doesn’t have that problem as it gleefully goes all the way with its cartoonish violence. Let’s hope that he and Trejo get the chance to do more Machete films but the next one should be direct-to-video if they really want to get in the spirit of the kinds of film they are championing.

8 comments:

  1. Terrific post J.D.
    I had such a great time with this film and it more than lived up to my expectations. I was especially floored by Michelle Rodriguez and thought she did an amazing job. I would actually love to see a spin-off film with her character.

    I wish a little more had been done with Lohan's part as I would have loved to have seen more with her and that stortline (it was the one part of the film that I thought was a bit undereveloped). I think she is a fabulous actress though and was just happy that R.R. gave her a part.

    I also love how Savini's character just disappeared as it leads me to think that there really will be a follow-up film.

    This was my favorite R.R. film along with From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City and Planet Terror. I can't wait to see it again.

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  2. Nice review. Still not sure if I want to watch it in the theater; RedBox will do for me. :)

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  3. This. Weekend. For. Sure! Thanks, J.D.

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  4. Man, this is the third time today I've either read or been told that this is the film to see, especially over The Expendables. Gonna have to jump this up the list...

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  5. Jeremy Richey:

    Thanks, my friend! Yes, I was wowed by Michelle Rodriguez as well and this might be my fave performance of hers to date (just edging out BLUE CRUSH).

    I thought that Lohan's character was just fine and anything more might have been too distracting. And I agree with you about Robert Rodriguez teasing us with Savini's enigmatic assassin character. I sense him playing a larger role in (I hope) the inevitable sequel.

    I look forward to this one hitting DVD and all the goodies I'm sure RR will put on it.


    Joseph:

    Thanks! Yeah, this is one you could probably enjoy just as well at home.


    le0pard13:

    You'll have to let me know what you think.


    Chris:

    It is a good one and I'm glad I made the effort to see it in theaters. After seeing the original trailer and reading up on it I knew I wanted to see this one ASAP and was not disappointed.

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  6. Well, I loved it! Michelle Rodriguez certainly had a Snake Plissken buzz about her. Whoa. And Alba and MR certainly have kept themselves in fighting shape [Robert Rodriguez certainly took extra adoring care in framing them on to the screen ;-)]. However, I have to tell you two others, as well, really surprised me: Jeff Fahey and Steven Seagal.

    Fahey came off with the same amount of charisma he first exhibited in Eastwood's White Hunter, Black Heart. He was really fun to watch. Where's that been most of his career? Seagal is Seagal, and he's limited from the get go in acting expression. Still, playing the villain (and his spanish pronunciation and fake accent weren't bad) has to be his new calling. For me, this is his best supporting role since Executive Decision.

    Thanks, J.D., for recommending it.

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  7. Yet another glowing review for Machete...I dont know what happened here in Puerto Rico, but the movie hasnt started yet!!! Im ripping off the hair out of my head for this! Im dying to see it, it possibly starts this thursday...Im crossing my fingers...

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  8. le0pard13:

    Glad you to see that you dug this film. I kinda figured you would. heh. And yes, RR certainly knows how to photograph his lovely ladies, esp. in this film but also Salma Hayek in DESPERADO.

    I'm glad you spotlighted Fahey. I've been a big fan of his for awhile (and yes, he was so good in WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART - love that film!) and it seems like RR's mission to give him juicy roles in high profile films what with MACHETE and, of course, PLANET TERROR - both of which he was so good in.

    And yes, it was pretty cool to see Seagal playing a baddie in this film. RR certainly knew how to play on his limited range and did so for maximum effect.


    The Film Connoisseur:

    I sure hope you get it soon. I think you'll really enjoy it. The film is a load of fun and I am curious to read your thoughts once you get a chance to see it.

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