Saturday, 12 February 2011

Machete (2010)

It would have been cool if he had a
gun that shoots machetes

Sorry everyone, I guess I'm partly to blame for Machete flopping. I could blame it on hype burnout or the mediocre reviews or having to wait three fucking months for it to arrive in Australian cinemas, but really I just never got around to it. Mea culpa. Really though, did anyone expect it to do well? A feature length version of a parody trailer in a movie that was itself a massive flop, starring a guy that most people only know as "that Mexican guy with the bad skin". Rodriguez took a mighty gamble on this film, and I guess he lost, at least financially.

Clearly a Mexploitation (tm Robert Rodriquez) action vehicle starring Danny Trejo is too good a concept to be consigned to a DVD special feature, but expanding a trailer into a feature length film is an inherently risky idea. A trailer is just a collection of cool moments, and you can't sustain that same momentum for 90 minutes. Rodriguez does his best, and I think he does a good job working those iconic moments into the context of a larger story. The main plot is pretty much exactly what was in the trailer. Danny Trejo plays a Federale who flees Mexico after a drug lord named Torrez (Steven Seagal) kills his family. Working as a day labourer in Texas, he is hired by a sleazy government official (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate an anti-immigration Texan Governor (Robert DeNiro) but he is double-crossed and forced to go on the run. Revenge, etc.

There's not much of a story there, but I've got no problem with that. I'm all about lean, mean action movies that streamline the plot and clock in at just under 90 minutes. Unfortunately that's not too popular these days, so they throw in a whole load of side plots and characters that, while often entertaining in themselves, just seem like padding. I mean, I got pretty excited when I heard about the avalanche of B and C-list celebrities in the cast, but I also caught a faint whiff of desperation, like they were just piling on familiar names for the sake of people who haven't heard of Trejo, plus it makes it almost impossible to balance these characters properly.

Jessica Alba is probably the worst offender as an immigration official who ends up falling for Machete (because of course she does). She has way too much screen time, especially since she can't act. Trailing closely behind her is Michelle Rodriguez as the leader of an underground immigrant support network, although at least she's kind of badass. You've also got Cheech Marin as Trejo's Catholic priest brother, Don Johnson as the leader of a gang of racist border patrol gun nuts, Tom Savini as a bounty hunter and Lindsay Lohan as Fahey's coke-addled daughter (joke goes here). It just goes on and on. I thought this film was called Machete?

I think making those kid-flicks must have done something to Rodriguez' brain. You can see a pretty clear difference between his pre and post Spy Kids career. Grindhouse and Once Upon a Time in Mexico were both overstuffed messes, and only a strict adherence to comic book fundamentalism spared Sin City. This film has the same problem. It starts out with a great action scene; lots of blood, multiple decapations, Steven Seagal speaking Spanish, and a girl hiding a cell phone in her vagina; but after that it wanders off in random directions like it's distracted by shiny objects.

Even if it doesn't all hang together, I can still list dozens of things I liked about the film. I liked the creativity in the violence, such as when Machete gutted a guy and used his intestines to abseil down the wall of the hospital. I liked how Tom Savini's bounty hunter was introduced with a terrible home-made advertisement. One thing I especially loved was Jeff Fahey's performance as DeNiro's scheming, sleazy aide. He nailed the tone perfectly. DeNiro himself doesn't fare so great, playing things a little too jokey and hammy. It's definitely a post-Meet-the-Parents performance.

I remember hearing some right-wingers in the US griping about the film's stance on illegal immigration, which is kind of hilarious. I guess the people who want their dumb action movies to contain right-wing messages only will have to be content with every other action movie ever made. Start with Red Dawn, that's a good one. I thought it was pretty obvious that the political messages in this film were supposed to be exaggerated and extreme, just like in the exploitation films its paying homage too. Like those films it employs a lot of Mexican stereotypes too, like Machete disguising himself as a gardener (although the bodyguard spelling out the satire was a step too far) or marching to war with a fleet of lowriders and rake-wielding Mexican immigrants.

As cool as it was to see Trejo get his due, it would have been nicer if they'd done it a few decades ago. The guy is in his 60s now. He does a good job and looks cool on screen, but that final fight between Trejo and Seagal is mostly just creative editing and stunt doubles. I can't really complain though, as it takes some monster balls to make something targeting to such a niche audience. Good on you, Robert. The end credits optimistically promise two sequels, Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again. If they do ever surface it will probably be Direct-To-Video, but to be honest that seems like a fitting home.


Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I only just got to Machete recently too, as it finally came out over here on Netflix, and I loved it. Part if why I think it didn't do so hot was that The Expendables took a lot of its thunder.

Dave said...

I thought Machete was shaggy and overstuffed, but a hell of a lot of fun. I liked it more than The Expendables, which I think took too many cues from modern action movies (shaky cam etc).

Ty said...

Great review! Loved Seagal in it. His mexican accent was hilarious! I agree too many characters, not enough Trejo.

It's always nice to see Fahey,
Cheech, Johnson, and Savini.

Rodriguez and Lohan were decent too.

Anonymous said...

I...didn't like it. The political aspects of it got way, way to preachy. Yeah, it's suppsoed to be over the top, but on some level, it also seems to be taking itself a bit seriously. The political posturing ground the movie to a halt.

Get rid of the frelenace border guys. Segal and DeNiro were terribly miscast - get some better character actors to play them. And Jessica Alba - sexy but a terrible actress.