Machete (Danny Trejo, Predators) is a legendary Federale (“like the FBI, CIA and DEA rolled up in one burrito”) who is out to take down Mexico’s biggest drug lord, Torrez (Steven Seagal, Hard to Kill). Unfortunately for Machete, it turns out that the witness against Torrez that he’s trying to rescue is actually just bait for a trap and Machete is captured. After murdering Machete’s wife (and either threatening to kill or explaining that he will be killing his daughter), Torrez commits a classic action movie mistake- he leaves Machete for dead. Machete survives and ends up across the border in America living on the street. When Booth (Jeff Fahey, Backfire) picks Machete as the patsy in a conspiracy to boost Texan State Senator McLaughlin’s (Robert DeNiro, We’re No Angels) flagging poll numbers, it’s not long before he realizes that he’s “Fucked with the wrong Mexican” . Can Machete survive long enough to expose Booth’s scheme, take down Torrez (you didn’t think he wouldn’t show up again, did you?) and prove his innocence?
Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi) movies are nearly review proof. Either you’re a fan of Rodriguez’s over the top, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink style, or you’re not. Sure, you can give a run down of just how well the expected Rodriguez elements worked, but since being a fan of Rodriguez’s means overlooking his film’s predictable flaws, it’s hard to get to far beyond “yeah, enough crazy/cool stuff happened”. Let’s go down the Rodriguez checklist, so all you fans and haters can keep score: 1) Eclectic Casting: In addition to putting bank robber turned prison boxer turned stuntman turned actor Danny Trejo in his first lead role, Rodriguez gathers his usual mix of “whatever happened to”, “how did he get that guy in this” and “people RR loves” in his cast. Seagal is suitably ridiculous as Torrez, essentially parodying his reputation as a guy who refuses to lose a fight in his films, while sporting a silly jet black rug and awful “Mexican” accent. DeNiro doesn’t wash as a Texan (though the film acknowledges this with a wink later) but he doesn’t embarrass himself as he sometimes does in comedy roles while playing the weasel politician to end all weasel politicians. Danny Trejo, unsurprisingly is a return to grizzled old bastards as action heroes, and it’s wonderful to see one again. Jeff Fahey simply steals every scene he’s in as the sleazy but tortured corrupt businessman Booth. In the “whatever happened to” file, Rodriguez casts Don Johnson (A Boy and His Dog) as the leader of a Minute Man style group of border vigilantes. Johnson isn’t given much to do except wear a goofy cavalry hat and mirror shades, but it is fun to see him working again. Lindsey Lohan’s downward career trajectory is certainly moving her towards “whatever happened to” status. Here she plays Fahey’s strung out pornstar daughter, stunt casting though, a one-note joke of a character, but Lohan pulls off-putting on a nun’s habit to pull an avenging sexy-nun-with-a-gun bit at the end, with the appropriate tongue-in-cheek attitude. The other women of the film include Jessica Alba (Sin City) and Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar). Alba’s acting here isn’t any better here than anywhere else; her flat delivery makes plain how ludicrous the film is. Michelle Rodriguez is an acquired taste that I’ve yet to acquire. She’s theoretically believable as an attractive bad-ass, but only theoretically, and calling on her to play the semi-mythical leader of a militant illegal immigrant support network named She is beyond her. The women are an after thought, there to dress the sets, even if Alba’s and Rodriguez’s characters are theoretically important to the plot of the film and “strong women”. Finally, in the “Robert Rodriguez casts these guys a lot” column we have Cheech Marin (The Shrimp on the Barbie) in a brief, amusing turn as Machete’s shotgun toting priest brother and FX guru Tom Savini (From Dusk Til Dawn), as a Persian hit man.
2) Over-the-top, ludicrous action: Rodriguez films almost always feature inventive, frenetic action, and Machete delivers more than its fair share. The body count is insane, and the WTF moments include killers in luchadore masks, intestine bungee jumping, Six Million Dollar Man sound effects for Torrez’s katana, weed whacker fu, and much, much more. 3) Crazy, all-over-the-place plot that doesn’t make sense: Machete (like most Rodriguez scripts) is so overfilled with subplots, action, and characters, that it doesn’t completely come together, and some plot threads get dropped or don’t amount to much. The climax isn’t terribly climatic because by the time you get there you’ve already seen so many killings and so much craziness that the relatively straight forward battle between She’s network and Don Johnson’s militia seems tame, but it is what is; Rodriguez writes, directs, and edits his own films, and he’s an idea factory, and good, bad, or indifferent, they all seem to make it in.
Machete is a typical Rodriguez film. It’s got plenty of craziness, plenty of action, doesn’t completely add up, and is a mixed bag when it comes to performances. In some ways the film is a bit too wild and woolly. Rodriguez fans will enjoy it and should see it before it leaves theaters; those who find his good points don’t outweigh his flaws will not find their opinion changed.