As many a film critic and movie fan will probably attest this weekend: Machete is pretty much the finest film you can make out of a satirical trailer that was never actually meant to inspire a feature-length film in the first place.
Fans of the Grindhouse experiment from a few years back know all about Machete: his was one of the "fake" trailers that played between Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, but Mr. Rodriguez made it clear at SXSW a few years back: Machete would be getting his very own movie -- and of course it would star Danny Trejo as the seriously bad-ass butt-kicker who does his part for Mexican immigrants against a half-dozen sleazy villains. That's what the "fake" trailer promised, and now that's precisely what Machete delivers. Even better, the full-length Machete adventure is coated in all the awesome movie-geek color that we got from the first two Grindhouse features; needless to say, Machete would make for an excellent triple feature alongside Planet Terror and Death Proof.
Written by Robert Rodriguez (and his cousin) and directed by Robert Rodriguez (and his editor), Machete looks to be a tongue-in-cheek, ultra-violent James Bond parody that pokes fun at all sorts of B-movie clichés and conventions -- and does so with a decidedly Latino flair. And why not? Lord knows these folks support the white and black superheroes, so clearly it's about time we got a Mexican bad-ass mega-hero to keep things balanced. In other words, I do believe Machete could kick every single ass on The Expendables' squad ... and he'd do it without all that boring chit-chat we usually get from the more traditional villain vanquishers.
The plot is a hilarious mess: a former "federale" turned fugitive, Machete is hired to kill a racist Senator, but of course a double-cross is in full effect. This leads our blade-swingin' head-cracker underground, which is where he gets involved with a Mexican "network" of illegal immigrants, a beautiful revolutionary, a beautiful INS officer, and a metric ton of of grungy henchmen. Plus, and this is some of the real fun, Machete is such an unstoppable bad-ass that it will take no less than four garish villains to bring him down: Don Johnson as a Latino-hating vigilante-type border patrol officer; Jeff Fahey as a scummy business man with assassination plans; Steven Seagal as a nefarious drug lord; and Robert De Niro as a Senator who simply hates those darn Mexicans. (I never thought I'd live to see Steven Seagal and Robert De Niro on the same "action villain" team, but that's why we have filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez!)
And with such an eclectic bunch of sleazoid weirdos running through Machete, Trejo's stoic and slightly sarcastic delivery fits the flick like a charm. Clearly a throwback to the '70s-style "power to the people" exploitation films (or is it mexploitation?), Machete is not without its shortcomings -- it runs 15 minutes too long, for example -- but it also features actors digging into a sly action parody with lots of gusto. Of the four villains, Jeff Fahey is clearly having the most fun, but it's pretty damn amusing to see Robert De Niro mugging his way through a character best described as "outrageously evil." Other noteworthy faces include those of Lindsay Lohan (playing an aspiring porn starlet, of all things), Cheech Marin (as a dangerous priest), Jessica Alba (as a kind-hearted INS agent), Michelle Rodriguez (as a taco-slingin' revolutionary), and Shea Whigham as the weirdest hitman since Crispin Glover wandered through Charlie's Angels.
Ridiculously violent (the film almost becomes an R-rated cartoon) but surprisingly clever for a movie inspired by grindhouse fare, Machete is a cockeyed action comedy that somehow manages to say a little something about the state of illegal immigration these days. Most of the actual "messages" found in Machete are of the obvious and simple variety, but every few scenes Rodriguez pokes some loving fun at his Mexican brethren (and the Americans too, of course), and he seems to be having a ball while doing it. Machete is also dryly funnier than most "straight" comedies, gorier than most splatter flicks, and more action-packed than three random Stallone flicks.
The action is insane, but it's the clever tone that sets Machete apart. The flick feels half like a spicy Latino James Bond parody, and the other half feels like an over-the-top love letter to some high-end cinematic cheese. But it works! It's high time the multiplexes had a true-blue Mexican bad-ass action hero, and it only makes sense that Rodriguez and Trejo would be the duo to pull it off so damn well.