Those of you who need a second opinion before slashing your way to theaters this weekend can find David Harley’s review of Machete beyond the break. While I enjoyed the film, he liked it quite a bit more. Check back here after you’ve seen the film and write your own reviews to tell all of Bloody Disgusting what you thought. We’ll give your reviews a push on Twitter (per usual).
When Grindhouse first entranced us in 2007, the faux trailers seemed to be the real talk of the exploitation opus, especially since almost everyone immediately expressed interest in making a feature-length version of their short. The initial skepticism surrounding the idea was entirely sound: these trailers were nothing more than a bunch of money shots strung together. In order to make them into a theatrical film, they would have to construct an actual narrative around the most interest arousing scene, have an actual plot, and be open to possible drastic changes, considering the format of each medium. For me personally, although I do like Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the S.S. the least out of the batch, I always felt Robert Rodriguez’s Machete played it a little too safe when compared to the gonzo antics of Euro-horror, vaginal stabbings, and Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu. However, after seeing Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis’ big screen tale of immigration, babes, and blood, I now know why Rodriguez was so excited about the character and his story of revenge and liberation: it’s plain ol’ FUN.
After Machete (played once again by Danny Trejo) has his family slain before his eyes and his reputation tarnished, he immigrates to Texas – Austin specifically, I can even pick out the 3 block radius most of the film was shot on – and begins his new, low-key life as a day laborer. However, not all is well in Drafthouse territory; Booth (Jeff Fahey), working with the infamous Mexican drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal), is trying to rig the re-election of Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), using Machete as a patsy. There’s also a subplot about Sartana (Jessica Alba) – the name is an homage to the spaghetti western character made famous by Gianni Garko and George Hilton – tracking down illegal immigrants and suspecting taco-truck matron Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) of being “She”, an equal-rights vigilante of sorts. And like many exploitations films, all the overly complicated subplots intersect to create a vast conspiracy and, of course, an ultra-violent showdown.
The great thing about Machete is that it caters to fans of Grindhouse. This is the next evolution of the franchise, and it gleefully revels in its over-the-top shenanigans. What separates this from Piranha 3D, a film in the same vein of stupidity, is that Machete knows what it wants to be 100% of the time; it does not flip-flop back and forth from being straight-faced and ridiculous. In that sense, it has more in common with The Lost Skeleton Of Cadavra than the recent fishes-gone-wild flick, which could not stick with either being downright gross and disturbing or retarded fun. Not only is it a love letter to a genre that, until recently, seemed like a forgotten relic, but it successfully emulates the situations and characters of those films. The only contradiction to this would be that Alba plays her character straight, almost as if someone didn’t let her in on the joke ala Dolph Lundgren in The Expendables. It’s like she’s acting on a different plane of existence but, in true exploitation sense, that kind of works in building the film’s charm.
For the most part, Rodriguez and Mariquis successfully adapted the idea of this ultra-badass character that has women and enemies falling at his feet – for different reasons, mind you. However, the story stills overstays its welcome by about 5 to 10 minutes, with the final showdown coming long after it should. Although they do tie together all of the simultaneously running plots, a 105 minute runtime is a tad overblown for such a subject. In a sense, the film came out at the right time, since immigration rights haven’t been as widely discussed in years and, like most other films of its ilk, it’s extremely preachy and ham-fisted in delivering its message.
The biggest problem Machete has is that it never feels like a Rodriguez film at all. Instead, it’s more like Rodriguez let Maniquis film his script and then slapped his name on it so studios would take it seriously – which would make sense, considering the rumored history the film had in getting distributed. Long gone is the gusto, style, and energy of Desperado, Sin City and Planet Terror; instead, we have something that seems common place and certainly serviceable which, in this case, is disappointing considering what COULD have been if Rodriguez had made the film himself 10 years earlier.
If you loved the Grindhouse trailer, Machete is exactly what you want it to be. It’s often times hilarious – scaling buildings with organs and assaulting people with weed-whackers has never been more glamorous – and, after The A-Team, it’s the second best action film of the year. With a supporting cast that only adds to its success (Lohan as a drug-addicted webcaster and Don Johnson as a renegade border patrol man are stand-outs), Machete is the first good theatrical experience of the back-to-school season.
Score: 4/5 Skulls