Editor’s note: Some minor spoilers follow.
Following a movie, a saying repeated all too often around town is, “This would have made a great short.”
That’s the irony of Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis’ Machete, a feature film version of Rodriguez’s faux trailer that was included in Dimension Films’ Grindhouse back in 2007. The campy trailer that opened the double feature teased a violent, non-stop action-packed thriller about a Mexican ex-Federale (Danny Trejo) with a gift for wielding a blade. It begged for a feature version, and that’s what Rodriguez promised to deliver. Now in theaters, I just can’t stop thinking about how “it would have made a good short.” Ironic, I know.
Although fans caught the first glimpse of Machete in 2007, the idea was actually conceived by Rodriguez back in 90’s when he was working on Desperado. The press notes tell us that he wanted to create a film that would make you want to be Latin: “When I watched [director] John Woo’s movies, they made me want to be Asian. Woo and [actor] Chow Yun-Fat’s ‘Hard Boiled’ and ‘The Killer’ really inspired me to make films that would create that feeling in the Latin arena.” While his attempt is commendable, it’s a difficult sell simply by casting the worn and withered Danny Trejo. Desperado achieved Rodriguez’s desired feeling by casting the suave and sexy Antonio Banderas, who could have sex with Salma Hayek while simultaneously killing multiple intruders. As much Danny Trejo kicks ass, he just can’t hold an entire movie on his shoulders, not to mention how nauseating the thought of him banging Michelle Rodriguez or Jessica Alba.
But I don’t want to make this review a Danny Trejo “hate fest” as I love the guy. He’s grizzly, tough, and has a face we’ve (not just his mother) grown to love over the years. He’s a strong protagonist, but could have really used a sidekick to help deliver some dialogue, and bring flair to this one-note thriller.
That’s the main problem with Machete, the fact that it’s so plain. The movie opens with a bang (literally) as Machete fights of Torrez’s (Steven Seagal) goons in a blood-soaked massacre (he literally cuts one guy’s head off, then chops it in half mid-air). When the opening credits began to roll I couldn’t help myself as I leaned over to Chris to exclaim, “that was f*cking awesome.” He was doing the same, adding, “Hopefully it can keep it going!”
While the action sequences often tap into brilliance (like the intestinal swing out of a window teased in the trailer), often times it becomes mundane. One of the biggest problems with gunfight films is that it gets boring, quickly. That’s the same deal with Machete, it has moments of pure cinema gold, before it stumbles into sequences where Machete eats eggs and chats with ally Sartana (Jessica Alba). BORING. Even the finale feels abrupt and lackluster. Before the credits roll, we’re teased with “Machete returns in Machete Kills, and Machete Kills Again!” Only, the feeling in my gut wasn’t of excitement. In fact, the moment the credits rolled I was ready to bolt out of the theater and never speak of the film again (only I had to write this review *angry fist*).
Machete shouldn’t be a movie – the idea itself defies Hollywood logic – but maybe that’s the charm it has to offer. Maybe there’s a cult movie hiding within? Maybe with the right audience, the right drink, and the right friends Machete would be more exciting? Even with some extraordinary, “jump out of your seat and cheer” moments, the full scope of the feature carries a certain blue-balls effect. As seen in both the faux trailer and feature, Machete straps a Gatling gun on the front of a motorcycle and blasts into the air, filling a few of his enemies with bullets on his way back to the ground. He lands, gets off the bike, and that’s the last you see of it. Where’s the money shot?