03 September 2010


Danny Trejo stars as a legendary ex-Federale in a scene from "Machete."
A common complaint about movies today is that all of the best parts are in the trailer. So what happens when you make the trailer years before the feature?

That is the case of Robert Rodriguez's "Machete," which began life in 2007 as a fake trailer accompanying the Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino tribute to 1970s exploitation flicks, the double feature "Grindhouse."

Danny Trejo, finally getting his shot as the leading man after racking up nearly 200 film and TV roles in the past 25 years, is the title character, an ex-Federale-turned-day-laborer in a Texas border town hired to assassinate State Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), whose hard-line stance on illegal immigration includes support of an electrified fence. The whole thing is a setup engineered by Booth (Jeff Fahey), an aide to the senator, and the Mexican drug lord (Steven Seagal) responsible for the murder of Machete's wife and child three years earlier.

Other players include Lt. Stillman (Don Johnson), the leader of a group of vigilantes patrolling the border; Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Sartana (Jessica Alba), Machete's only American ally; Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who runs both a taco stand and an underground organization known as the Network; a priest who also happens to be Machete's brother (Cheech Marin); and April (Lindsay Lohan), Booth's promiscuous daughter.

Rodriguez shares the directing duties with Ethan Maniquis and the screenplay credit with his cousin, Alvaro Rodriguez, but it's his stamp on the film, from the familiar faces gracing the screen to the wildly over-the-top action. It is a surprisingly political movie, its stance on immigration as blunt as everything else depicted.

There is an awful lot of plot to wade through and a lot of characters mixed up in it, but it's all necessary because Machete, when he isn't wielding his signature weapon, is essentially a blank slate as a character. Trejo is an intimidating physical presence, and that's all the role ever allows him to be.

Despite the graphic violence, including many severed heads and limbs, "Machete" plays best as a comedy, with the actors clearly having a ball as they ham it up, seemingly competing with one another to see who can chew the most scenery.

Yet it feels like Rodriguez and company didn't push the camp factor far enough considering the bar he set three years ago. (Maybe he had to rein himself in to appease 20th Century Fox.)
In short, "Machete" is 105 minutes of ludicrous fun, but you can see the best parts in the trailer.

Greg's Grade: B-

(Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity. 105 minutes.)

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