Film review: MacheteBy Kim Francis
December 01, 2010
If you saw Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror in American cinemas, you might remember seeing the spoof trailers that appeared between the two films.
Terror was released with Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, with the double bill entitled Grindhouse in homage to the genre to which it belongs.
Sandwiching the two films were spoof trailers, one of which was for a film called Machete.
That trailer stuck in people’s minds – not least Rodriguez’s – and now the maverick director has turned his germ of an idea into a full length feature film in its own right.
Starring the swarthy, craggy-faced, instantly recognisable Danny Trejo in his first lead role an the eponymous Mexican ex-cop who flees to the US after he is betrayed, Machete soon finds himself on the run again. When he is crossed for a second time by the boss of an organisation that hires him to assassinate racist Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), the tough renegade (named after his weapon of choice for dispatching bad guys) vows revenge.
Getting himself mixed up with a militant group headed up by tough Mexican cookie Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), as well as glamorous immigration investigator Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba), he secures the assistance of his religious brother Padre Cortez (Cheech Marin) and uncovers some nefarious dealings. He then shines a light on socio-political issues, marking himself out as a proper ladies man and kick-ass tough guy along the way.
Co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, Machete is stuffed with subtle dark humour played out with typical Rodriguez relish. And though Machete is artyly a send-up of the 1970s Exploitation flicks – it’s largely tongue-in-cheek and also endlessly affectionate. Robert Rodriguez clearly has a nostalgic passion for the genre.
The Texas-born director revels in gore and there’s plenty of it here – most notably in the inventive scene where Machete uses a man’s entrails to swing from a window after disembowelling the guy in a never-before-seen treat for fellow gore fans. Much of the rest of the violence and bloodletting in the film, however, is far less graphic.
Scenes are cut carefully so as not to show too much, with the camera frequently cutting away at the key moment, despite its 18-certificate. This helps to keep the humorous tone that runs throughout intact and gives violent scenes a stylised, comic book feel.
One of the most impressive – and perhaps surprising – aspects of the film is its astonishing cast. With meaty roles for Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Steven Seagal, Jeff Fahey, Lindsay Lohan and Don Johnson (yes, Don Johnson), it’s a cinematic wonder.
All make compelling viewing, especially Seagal who plays the delicious bad guy like no other.
A grossly uninspired script and too much emphasis on the political message leaves the film sagging in the middle – it cries out for some sparkling Tarantino-esque dialogue to really set it alight.
Nevertheless, Machete is an intriguing and worthwhile piece of cinema.
There aren’t many auteurs working in Hollywood today and it’s great to see a filmmaker like Rodriguez given free rein to break free and do his own thing. This alone makes Machete worth the cost of admission.