Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Machete (2010)

Machete is the cinematic equivalent of Taco Bell - cheap, junky and best consumed in low doses. That’s why it was great as a faux trailer for 2007s Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez trailer-trash epic Grindhouse, and why it falters as a full length feature flick here. Machete is an ode to bad cinema, a movie that wants to be so bad it’s good. But a movie that succeeds at being a bad movie is ultimately still just that – bad.

So how good is this movie at being bad?


In the opening sequence of Machete, the Mexican namesake in bad-asserie (played simply by character actor Danny Trejo) charges into a house, gutting and decapitating an army of henchmen until he finds the kidnapped girl he’s after lying in wait, naked, drugged and unashamed. He tells her to get dressed. She’s says it’s too hot for clothes. So he hoists her scorching naked body over his shoulder and carries her to safety, where she promptly pulls a cell phone from her vagina and stabs him in the back with it. Not literally of course, but that would have been fitting too.


If that sounds awesome to you, then you’re at least in the right mindset. If it doesn’t, then stay away – Machete never quite matches this scenes admitted creativity, but consistently stays true to its grungy-violent sensibility.

Co-directed by Rodriguez and his comrade in arms Ethan Maniquis, Machete is a sloppy drunk Tex-Mex binge that excuses its cheesy characters, lazy story, poor acting and grotesque nature with irony. It’s one, big, self-aware joke that for some reason still chooses to take on some very real immigration issues. Machete the person gets mixed up in a political conspiracy engineered by greedy republicans (a lame Robert DeNiro, a strong Jeff Fahey) and Mexican drug lords (Steven Segal, over-the-hill and really, really, fat) to reinforce immigration laws. Soon he becomes Machete the legend, and leads an immigrant uprising against all the evil Texans of the world… but not without taking a time out to bed the angry Michelle Rodriquez, the purposeless Jessica Alba and the rebellious druggy Lindsay Lohan (note – those descriptions apply to both the characters and the actors themselves, ‘cause that’s just the kind of self-aware mockery Machete is).

Occasionally this is kind of fun. But the novelty bleeds out fast, and in the end we’re left with a bunch of sub-par jokes and zero story investment. That might seem too critical for a film like this. But then a film like this costs the same to see in theaters as the films that are actually good, so shouldn’t we expect at least a little effort?

Take this summer’s The Expendables, for example – a junk action flick fueled by 80s sentimentality. Had that been the only thing going for Sly and the action-junkie fam, The Expendables would have been a disappointment. But it wasn’t. The action was strong and smart. The actors took their shtick seriously, and, most importantly, the movie tried. The plot was throwback weak, but the effort came across on screen, and as a result the movie was fun.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was MacGruber, which mocked its own 80s mentality and fell flat on its face. Machete isn’t nearly as annoying, but on the fun-bad movie scale, it falls somewhere between the those two flicks. Rodriguez’s film feels like it was put together at a late night party, and nobody realized how bad it looked in the morning. The fact that Danny Trejo is the star of this mid-to-major Hollywood film is a testament to miracles, because he never should have been, and probably never will again. He can’t carry a movie, and really isn’t asked to, since he barely speaks, barely acts, and barely does much of anything.

The biggest letdown, though, is the action. Action is how Rodriquez made his name. His 1995 gem Desperado is one big, beautiful, violent ballet. But since then he’s mostly gone for the cheap and easy stuff like From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Sin City (2005) and Planet Terror (2007). There’s a lot of cool in these flicks, and a lot of grungy atmosphere, but not a lot of action style.

In short, Rodriguez has (d)evolved into a directeur d’une compagnie de trash ballet. If that’s your bag, then this is your film.

But it isn't mine.


Dempsey Sanders said...

Personally this doesn't sound like my kind of film even if I do like some of Rodriguez mvoies, hmm, may give it a try, Great and fair wright up

Anonymous said...

This movie was great! I had the opportunity to see Danny Trejo in El Superstar! Not many people have heard of it and it hasn't been publicized much, but it's great. You can see it at Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex (9/17/10 through 9/23/10):
Daily @ 1:00, 3:20, 5:30, 7:40 & 10:15

Danny Trejo will be there!!!!


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