Machete: The JJJ Review
September 5, 2010

Let’s get this out of the way right now.

It’s not a call for amnesty.

It’s not advocacy of killing those opposed to (illegal) immigration.

Just stop it.

 

Before the first of the two features in 2007′s criminally unappreciated Grindhouse, what audience there was was treated to a faux trailer for a character whose first strokes were painted in Robert Rodriquez’s Desperado and fully realized in a supporting, and decidedly PG, role in all three of the director’s Spy Kids adventures.  No longer a genial uncle, the man in the fake trailer was quite R-rated and definitely the wrong Mexican with whom to fuck.  He was…

 

Conceived as a direct-to-DVD movie before a promotion to the silver screen, Machete opened this week amid the unending debate over Mexican immigration into the United States.  Although the border is the backdrop and, in the end, it’s the wetbacks versus the rednecks, this is not a movie about politics or race.  It’s, in the end, a fairly simple revenge/redemption story with the usual Rodriguez overlay of hot women and cartoonishly over-sized violence. 

And a pretty good one.

Machete (Danny Trejo, finally a bride) begins the story as one of the few federales still interested in enforcing the law.  This runs him afoul of not only the criminal element haunting the border, but his own corrupt superior, as well, who, in concert with drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal playing a Mexican, yes), ruins Machete’s life before his eyes and leaves him for dead in a burning house.

Always a mistake.

Three years later, we find Machete on the U.S. side of the border struggling for work as a day-laborer under the watchful eyes of ICE agent Sartana (Jessica Alba).  Machete is approached by a mystery man (Jeff Fahey) who tasks him to assassinate a (really, really) staunch opponent of Mexican immigration, State Senantor McLaughlin (Robert De Niro, having fun).  When the hit goes awry, Machete finds himself tangled up with his employer’s enforcers and The Network, a secret association of Mexican immigrants and allies lead by local taco vendor Luz (Michelle Rodriguez, also criminally unappreciated, but I digress).  Soon, Machete hooks up with Sartana, who agrees to look the other way while he gathers evidence to both clear his name and get to the bottom of his ex-employer’s motivations and associates.

The best thing about Machete are the over-the-top action sequences, particularly the pre-credits sequence and Machete’s escape from a hospital following the botched assassination.  The quick cuts and splatter really work here, and are fun and exciting in a way the violence and death in Pirahna 3-D completely missed the mark.  At it’s worst (and it’s never that bad) the movie goes off on fairly needless tangents involving Fahey’s burnout daughter (Lidndsey Lohan, basically playing herself) and Rodriquez mascot Cheech Marin as Machete’s priest brother.  There’s also sneering and villainy from Don Johnson as a self-appointed border vigilante and an uber hitman played by makeup wiz Tom Savini. 

Trejo is good in the lead role.  You knew he could handle the stunt work but, with a minimum of dialog, he also makes Machete both someone you like and someone you believe is smart enough to figure things out.  Alba is predictably lightweight playing a federal agent.  Sadly, Michelle Rodriquez takes a backseat to her in what ends up being an underwritten role.

When the inevitable showdown between Machete’s army and the bad guys happens, things get very slapdash and jumpy.  It’s as though the sequence exploded and the shots had to be pieced back together from memory.  A key villain is killed off-screen, another disappears entirely, and it’s difficult to tell who’s shoot/stabbing/goring whom.  The lack of coherence may be an intentional homage to the Z-movie trash Machete emulates, but it left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied in the end.  Still, I enjoyed this more than I did last month’s The Expendables, which I thought was 20 minutes of scattershot violence padded to fill 100 minutes.

Certainly not to be taken seriously, Machete is a worthy spin-off from Grindhouse (and, I guess, Spy Kids) that’s a better waste of two hours than several of the other wastes of two hours we’ve gotten this summer.  See it if the mood strikes you.

* * 1/2 

-JJJ (is on Twitter)

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Jason "JJJason" Chirevas
Jason Chirevas is a toy collector whether he likes it or not (and he often doesn't). This former Would've-Been Action Hero is as interested in the humanity, psychology, and psychosis of collecting as he is in the action figures themselves. Fun guy.
Read other articles by Jason "JJJason" Chirevas.

 

 

 

9 Comments »

  • Shellhead says:

    The Machete character was in Spykids? WTF?

    Looks fun, but I’ll wait until it hits HBO/SHO/CINE. While a fan of building a wall and putting the army on the southern border, I think the Right was making a mountain out of a molehill with this one. Hollywood is guilty of a liberal agenda, but this is just a guilty pleasure type film.

  • Dandy Boots says:

    You seem to recognize the “fun” stemming from the fact that the film is outlandishly unrealistic; therefore making it simply fantasy to be consumed and enjoyed with no external comments on the world at large.

    If the tables were turned, however, and the protagonist of a film was a Ku Klux Klansman exhibiting positive morals – family man, hard worker, honest, just prefered to stay away from minorities – who was wronged by sadistic black gang members, would you also deem the film “fun”?

    Imagine a film called “Lynch”. Our rough protagonist, Duke, abhors violence and has committed himself to a monkish lifestyle of simplicity. However, corrupt government officials along with child raping gang members invade Duke’s life and murder his family. Duke cracks, and says enough is enough. He grabs his rope and his Harley and strings up a swath of evil dark skinned humanity across the South.

    Over-the-top violence and unrealisticly depraved characters. Sounds like some great fun to open on the weekend anniversary of Hitler’s Birthday!

    • Jason JJJason says:

      I don’t think I follow; are you equating the Klan with federales? Black gangbangers with Mexican immigrants? I don’t understand the basis of your point.

      Also, have you seen the movie? That would help me out, too.

      -JJJ

  • George says:

    Wow, I can’t believe you actually referred to a race as wetbacks. Really, wow. You don’t see anything wrong with this? AFI doesn’t?

    • Jason JJJason says:

      I used the pejorative for both groups to illustrate the anger, and perhaps ignorance, on both sides.

      Did you not read the rest of the sentence, or is insulting one group, but not another, OK with you?

  • Lt. Clutch says:

    When all is said and done, when all the arguments over race have been settled, this movie will be remembered for the cell phone scene alone.

    First time anyone’s ever tried THAT on mainstream celluloid.

  • George says:

    You shouldn’t be using either word IMO, as they can be viewed as offensive. I don’t know how you think you can justify using such a racist word. Maybe you should reread what you actually wrote because it’s nothing other than a racist comment. It should not be on this or any other site. Stick to action figures if you can’t see what you wrote as wrong.

    • Jason JJJason says:

      So, now both words are wrong, but you only cited one, initially.

      Curious.

      I explained my juxtaposition to you, but you insist on intimating I’m a racist.

      Curiouser…

      Thank you for your perspective and good luck (not really) with your agenda.

  • George says:

    No agenda.

    Both are derogatory. But I’m glad you’re sidestepping the issue at hand.

    Show me how you can justify using either word, let alone a racist comment like “wetbacks.” Go to anyone in your household, anybody on the street and use the word wetbacks in front of them in your conversation.

    You won’t.

    You wouldn’t in your house, on the street or anywhere else. So something’s wrong there.

    I’m astonished that AFI hasn’t erased this racist comment from your blog yet, so maybe they condone such behavior.

    I guess blogs have no rules, no boundaries. Racist comments be damn.

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