MACHETE (Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, 2010)
In MACHETE Danny Trejo plays the Federale who wields the type of blade with which he shares a name. An operation to take down a drug lord ends badly, and for the next three years the now former Mexican law enforcer must scrounge out a living with the other undocumented day laborers in Texas.
After Machete delivers an impressive display of cunning and brute force in a street fight, a stranger approaches him with the offer of a big payday in exchange for assassinating Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), whose campaign demonizes illegal immigrants. Machete accepts the job but soon finds out that he’s being set up. He bands together with taco truck owner Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) to crush the bad guys and help his fellow downtrodden countrymen.
MACHETE originated as one of the fake trailers between the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino features in GRINDHOUSE. Now expanded to feature length, this indulgent homage to exploitation films resembles its inspirations in good and bad ways.
MACHETE starts like gangbusters with Trejo as a one-man Chop-O-Matic invading the villain’s turf. The pre-opening credits sequence blends extreme violence and riotously funny gags to perfection. There’s no question that Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis know they’re making trash, and they delight in being as outrageous and inappropriate as they can be.
Their no-holds-barred approach in MACHETE’S vengeance tale can be genuinely thrilling, but it also permits a lot of sloppiness. MACHETE’S less than rigorous direction and editing trim as much expository fat as possible so there can be more of the good parts, meaning one-liners and action and sex scenes. It’s not a coincidence that MACHETE first existed in trailer form. As a feature it unspools like a loosely connected highlight reel that starts to feel repetitive after awhile.
Fueling MACHETE is on-the-nose commentary regarding the immigration debate. It’s a more political movie than one might expect from an ode to junk cinema, although dabbling in the issues while trafficking in schlock fits in the tradition. Nevertheless, MACHETE’S blunt blade can be unsheathed more than is necessary to make a philosophical point. The lack of subtlety and discipline is what can make MACHETE a disreputable pleasure and less than a full success.