A Bloody Good Time
By Roxana Hadadi
To fully appreciate “Machete,” you have to love the weird world of director Robert Rodriguez, the man who has created films about evil vampires in a desolate Mexican bar (“From Dusk till Dawn”), strippers with hearts of gold and prostitutes with big guns (“Sin City”) and a go-go dancer with a grenade launcher leg who battles zombies (“Planet Terror”). If you can’t laugh at all the blood, guts and breasts, then there’s no way to survive a Rodriguez flick – and certainly no way to appreciate “Machete.”
Because really, blood, guts and breasts is all “Machete” is. A film spun out of a fake trailer that aired with Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” during the April 2007 release of “Death Proof,” “Machete” mightily deserves its R rating – there are vicious murders, decapitations, explosions, naked women and enough four-letter words to make your grandma cry. Should anyone under the age of 17 see this movie? Probably not, unless that kid is the most mature teenager ever; otherwise, this one is purely for those legally able to buy a ticket.
For viewers of a certain age and testosterone-driven mindset, though, “Machete” is fantastic. The film begins on a desolate Mexican road as Mexican Federal Police officer Machete (Danny Trejo) goes against his superior’s orders and invades drug kingpin Torrez’s (Steven Seagal) safe house in order to rescue a witness who had agreed to testify against Torrez. But when Machete gets there, though, he realizes it’s all been a setup: His superior is actually working with Torrez, as was the witness. “Why can’t I own you?” Torrez wonders of Machete, who refuses to bend to his will – but after Torrez decapitates Machete’s wife and implies that he’ll also kill Machete’s daughter, the drug kingpin isn’t taking any chances. Lighting the safe house on fire, he leaves Machete to die there – assuming that the police officer would give up his will to live with his family gone.
But three years later, Machete is still alive – and now in Texas, trying to scrape a life together as a day laborer and loitering around a taco truck run by Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who also works for the Network, an Underground Railroad of sorts for undocumented Mexican immigrants. Though Machete struggles to find work, he’s noticed immediately by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent Sartana (Jessica Alba), who camps out by the taco truck every day and is trying her hardest to bust Luz. And soon, he’s noticed too by the mysterious, suit-wearing Booth (Jeff Fahey), who hires Machete with $150,000 in cash to kill Sen. John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), an incumbent politician with raging anti-immigration views. “The senator must die,” Booth seethes, so Machete takes the bait – and gets snared in yet another setup.
Yup, another setup – as Booth turns out to be an adviser of McLaughlin’s, who uses Machete to show why the country needs tougher immigration laws. And when it turns out that Booth and McLaughlin are also in bed with another enemy from Machete’s past, it’s obvious that the former cop needs all the help he can get. With the help of Luz, a morally changed Sartana, Machete’s priest brother nicknamed Padre (Cheech Marin) and other workers from the same day labor site, Machete must craft together a way to not only clear his name, but also save his fellow immigrants from Texas’s deadly pro-border-fence sentiment.
Not much of what happens in “Machete” is surprising, as it’s easy to tell that Rodriguez wants to paint the character as a mythical hero with barely any weaknesses. But the way Rodriguez crafts the tale, paying homage to other genres (everything from ninja flicks to pornography, with bow-chicka-bow music before every time a woman gets it on with Machete), is what makes the flick such an enjoyable ride. Really, it’s all about hedonism: Those craving a well-executed fight scene will certainly enjoy when Machete slices open a man and uses his intestines as a rope to jump out of a hospital window, and for an inappropriate laugh, Booth’s thoroughly disgusting feelings for his daughter April (Lindsay Lohan) and the fact that Padre taped all of Booth’s confessions are worth a giggle.
And it’s mainly the bit parts that shine the brightest: Marin is great as Padre, who sets up TV monitors in his office in the shape of a cross and is willing to kill anyone to defend his brother, and Lohan is great as the tongue-in-cheek April, willing to milk her nudity for online celebrity. De Niro and Rodriguez, though, steal the show, with the former perfectly capturing his politician character’s flip-flopping loyalties and the latter believably embodying the role of a gun-slinging revolutionary. If there really is an uprising, you’ll want her on your side.
Undeniably, it’s all over-the-top, and it’s tough to not get desensitized from all the nudity, decapitated heads and blood. But Rodriguez’s winks at the viewers – from how McLaughlin is a dead ringer for another senator whose last name starts with “Mc” and who also desired to be president, and how Lohan’s character is a drug-addicted, fame-seeking young woman, much like she allegedly is in real life – help give “Machete” a good mix of absurdity and believability. It’s campy and it’s gory, but if you expected anything more from Rodriguez, you’re seeing the wrong movie.
Roxana Hadadi last reivewed “The Switch,” also out in theaters this week.
If you’re looking for something more family-friendly, how about “Nanny McPhee Returns?” You can read our review here.