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.
Fox’s 1080p Blu-Ray encode faithfully recreates the picture quality of its theatrical exhibition, though Grindhouse fans who have not yet seen Machete and are hoping for all sorts of scratches and blemishes will be sorely disappointed. The film’s production design does indeed mirror that of a low-budget 70’s action romp, so in that respect, it’s great; however, it’s much slicker looking than Grindhouse, and on Blu-Ray, it’s even more pronounced. In other words, it’s a film that most viewers would probably want to look somewhat degraded, and instead it looks pretty damn spectacular, without heavy usage of DNR or other common HD issues. Take that as you will. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track is appropriately loud and booming, picking up every slice and hurling bullet casing. The dialogue and audio track is balanced well, with neither overpowering each other. My biggest complaint is the piss poor selection of extras, given that Rodriguez’s releases are usually jam-packed with everything imaginable. Really makes me wonder whether or not this is the final release. No 10-Minute Cooking School? What is the world coming to?
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.
Audience Reaction Track – Assumedly recorded at the Austin, TX premiere, the track is more of a throwaway than anything. Like the one featured on the Planet Terrorreleases (extended and theatrical), it has way too many silent spots to hold anyone’s attention span, and is more than moderately annoying if you’re trying to focus on the film. I get that Machete and Grindhouse are throwbacks to balls-to-the-wall exploitation films, but using an uninspired curiosity instead of a good, informative technical track that Rodriguez usually puts on his releases is really lazy, and makes me wonder if there’s going to be a double dip release down the line.
Deleted Scenes (10:58) – A collection of 10 deleted scenes, some of which are of surprising merit. Alba’s Sartana has a twin sister addicted to a Nyquil knock-off, and Rose McGowan makes her cameo as a seductive hit woman working alongside Savini’s Osiris. The rest of the scenes are mostly little tidbits with De Niro and Fahey, but I think there’s enough with Alba’s twin and McGowan to think that there’s an alternate cut of the film floating around out there with alternate subplots. Along with the absence of a proper commentary track and a cooking school entry, I’m becoming more convinced that another release is coming down the pipeline unless they plan on releasing them through BD-Live (there’s only an extra deleted scene available at the time of this review).