The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of Machete was for the “In Theatres” section of The Parallax Review.
by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor
Two weeks ago, I reviewed Piranha 3D, a 90-minute misfire that only attempted to entertain by using ridiculous exploitable elements. Where that movie failed was the inability to provide even the most basic of plots to hang the gore and nudity on. This weekend, Machete offers up not quite as much gore and nudity, but it’s a very entertaining film because writers Álvaro Rodriguez and Robert Rodriguez provide a goofy, satirical, and coherent plot to accommodate the ridiculous elements.
Machete is an extension of one of the fake trailers from the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino megabomb/ego-trip Grindhouse. It’s to the credit of Robert Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis that they did not rely simply on the fun of seeing Danny Trejo as the title character go through the paces of killing bad guys and bedding beautiful women. In a surprising turn, they offer up an effective (but still simplistic) satire of the illegal immigration debate that finds Machete, an ex-federalé now working as a day laborer in Texas. When he is offered $150,000 to assassinate a Texas state senator (Robert De Niro) who is running on an anti-immigration platform, he takes the job only to be double-crossed. This forces Machete to get to the bottom of the conspiracy to kill the senator, in order to clear his name. To pull this off, he finds it necessary to kill many, many people in as bloody and inventive ways as possible. Luckily, that’s something he’s very, very good at.
While the plot is fairly paint by numbers action movie material, the sense of fun is palpable. Trejo grounds the film with a constant scowl and his usual surly charisma. This allows the mayhem and the other actors to go as far over-the-top as they want.
Jessica Alba fails to make much of an impression as an immigration agent who finds her loyalties wavering, but Michelle Rodriguez (as a woman who helps immigrants get settled), Jeff Fahey (as a scummy businessman/drug kingpin), and De Niro seem to be having a blast. They understand the tone and chew the scenery to great comic effect. De Niro, in particular, seems more alive and interested onscreen than I have seen him in years. Rodriguez and Maniquis also get fun turns and great mileage out of stunt-casting actors like Steven Seagal, Lindsay Lohan, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, and Tom Savini in extended cameos that play off their public personas.
At 105 minutes, the film is too long and could have used some serious trimming of exposition and on-the-nose speeches about the immigrants coming across the border from Mexico. These sequences tend to drag on the forward momentum that comes with the ridiculous action and silly sight gags. This also makes the film feel rushed during the big finale, as though the filmmakers realized they were running long and had to wrap things up in a hurry.
Even with those complaints, Machete brought a smile to my face and elicited several big laughs. It works best as a silly action movie with a ridiculous body count and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, but the political satire, while blunt, scores a few points. It’s just an added cherry on top of a fun confection.
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