|In theaters now …
Rating: 2.25 out of 5
Robert Rodriguez is a polarizing director; one that is known for having a ton of pre-production properties on his plate and for slapping together movies made from single shot, low take scenes. Much of the time that, by design, works to his advantage because, like Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez likes to explore and exploit cliché. For better or worse that is once again exactly what is delivered in Machete. Machete is not going to change anyone’s mind about Rodriguez as a director, so there is a hint for what your reaction to the movie might be.
The narrative of Machete is standard grindhouse and Spanish language television fare with the title character (Danny Trejo), a Mexican Federale, being set up and left for dead by Steven Seagal. Machete, as should be expected, doesn’t die so easily, and he lives to fight another day – albeit in a round-about fashion.
The pre-title card scene in Machete is shot in the same faux 70s grindhouse dirty film style that was used in the bromance sucktacular Grindhouse. Lucky for everyone that gimmick is dropped as soon as the credits roll .
The film then moves to the ongoing immigrant war along the Mexican boarder. Robert De Niro, in what is frankly one of his best recent performances (faint praise), is a hate spewing South Western Senator who is running for re-election on the good ol’ Mexicans ‘R Parasites platform. Yes, this is self serving politicking from Rodriguez, but it is mostly harmless while shedding some light on a very real fringe culture in our oh-so loving country. Machete just happens to be along the boarder in Texas at this time trying to get by as a day laborer. Times are tough, though, and Machete has to rely on the kindness of a beautiful taco stand proprietor (Michelle Rodriguez) just to get by.
His fortunes change, however, when Machete is approached by Booth (Jeff Fahey in a wonderfully hammy performance) and is offered a giant burrito full of money for whacking the Senator ostensibly because the Senator’s policies rob good hardworking businessmen of cheap off the books labor.
Machete is once again set up and the movie’s pace for the second act is very good. The second act also features considerable on-screen time for the beautiful to behold yet painful to watch Jessica Alba as a ladder-climbing Immigrations Officer. Michelle Rodriguez is sexy hot in her role as the apparent the front woman for She – an organization that helps immigrant workers. I got many chuckles out of the She posters displayed throughout the movie for they purposely resemble the Ché posters which are omnipresent in Mexico and Latin American countries.
The third act descends into the typical Robert Rodriguez hot mess where grossly iconoclastic characters fill each scene with impenetrably fast, impossible to follow (or care) action. This third act – the finale – bored me to playing with my popcorn bag and tweeting a few lines from my phone (in a mostly empty theater).
The strongest elements in Machete’s delivery are in the first two-thirds of the movie. The set-up is dead-on in its roots by not only mimicking grindhouse movies, but also cheaply made action movies that are endlessly shown on Spanish language television. The plot and acting, especially at the beginning, is note perfect in capturing the spirit of those films – much like Rodriguez’s El Mariachi which is one of those films. The action during this time is relentless and gory with inventive kills (mostly shown in the trailers) and a high body count. The pre-title card set-up also makes good use of the most intriguing hiding place for a cell phone ever envisioned – all the way down to the satisfying sound effects.
Machete is not released in 3D which is a plus. That makes a matinee showing affordable and about the right amount to pay when considering cost-to- value.
De Niro, Fahey, and Michelle Rodriguez stand out in the acting department. Fahey, especially, captures the spirit of his terrible character while oozing slimy charisma enough to fill a few million Taco Bell burritos.
The weakest elements in Machete are familiar to anyone that has seen a Robert Rodriguez film: Anarchistic characters inserted awkwardly and overused, too many cameos, and the incineration of the story’s continuity by the time the third act rolls around.
Additional weaknesses are embodied by Jessica Alba (despite a brief nude scene), Lindsay Lohan (despite mostly nude scenes) who, for some reason, was unable to pull off playing a drugged up skank, and, most surprisingly, Trejo as Machete was unbelievably weak. I understand that while playing in cliché that role does not require a great actor, but besides being a scarred ugly Latino with long hair, Trejo does not have the charisma of an action star. He’s short, stocky, and slow without any flair of believable menace. Steve Seagal chubbed his way through a half dozen weak scenes as the main villain. To say he was terrible would be a kindness.
You don’t have to rush to the theater to watch Machete. You’ll be happy enough to catch it on DVD.
Coop says: 2.25 out of 5