As Robert Rodriguez's grindhouse-throwback Machete neared its release, it faced a lot of opposition from people claiming that the movie not only would incite, but promoted, a violent race war. The illegal immigration issue does play a big part in the movie's story, with the hero, Machete (Danny Trejo), portraying something of a freedom fighter for the oppressed Mexican immigrants. The movie does portray a lot of Americans as racist and belligerent, but it's done in such an over-the-top fashion that you have to try really hard to be offended. Rodriguez makes his point and then drives it home with the subtlety of a freight train in a highly entertaining way.
It should be noted that Rodriguez also pokes a lot of fun at his home state of Texas, which is where he runs his own Troublemaker Studios. So yes, the content in Machete should be taken with a grain of salt. He's having fun, and thanks to Machete, we can have a lot of fun too.
Danny Trejo, in his first leading role, plays Machete Cortez, a former Mexican Federale who has a rather nasty run in with druglord Torrez (Steven Seagal) and then heads for the states. After winding up in Texas, a local businessman named Booth (Jeff Fahey) offers him $150,000 to kill a Senator (Robert De Niro). All hell breaks loose from there as Machete uncovers a conspiracy to seal off the U.S./Mexico border for good. In his struggle for freedom, Machete runs into some old faces and meets some new ones along the way. The movie boasts a diverse assortment of characters portrayed by a diverse assortment of actors. Robert De Niro, Lindsey Lohan, and Steven Seagal all in the same movie? It's a cast you would never expect, and yet it works beautifully.
An homage to exploitation movies seems like a step or two below De Niro's paygrade, but nonetheless he's here and he seems to be having a blast. He doesn't quite chew the scenery, but he definitely nibbles, and he's a lot of fun to watch. Chris Cooper was apparently offered the role of Senator Jim McLaughlin, but turned it down, claimed that the script was the most absurd thing he'd ever read. You're damn right it is!
Absurdity is Machete's specialty. It's why you'll see the movie and why you'll like it. It's absolutely ridiculous, and if you weren't prepared for that going into it, there isn't much to say. The problem the movie has is when it loses that exaggerated feeling. A few times in the movie it begins to simmer down and, not only does it venture into boring territory, it begins to feel like an actual movie. Machete works best as an explosive piece of entertainment. The violence is gratuitous, the humor is crude, and the characters are one note - exactly how it should be. And yet there are times where the movie loses sight of this and you begin to see through the gimmick. Lucky, these moments never last for long and before you can snap back into reality, Machete will make someone bleed.
Rodriguez is great at what he does, and what he does is entertain. Machete is as visual a display of machismo as we're likely to see. If that's your thing, you're going to like what you see.
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