Tuesday, September 21, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: Machete

MACHETE-- 3 STARS

http://www.vivamachete.com
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0985694/

Robert Rodriguez makes his movies hands-on from the ground up.  He finances his own studio and is commonly called a "one-man film crew."  Nobody in Hollywood wears as many hats as he does when making a movie.  Rodriguez writes, directs, shoots, edits, scores, and supervises visual effects and production design on nearly all of his movies.  He has proudly "shot, chopped, and scored" his stamp on a great many film genres.  This maverick filmmaking style has made his films a brand all their own, right there with his buddy Quentin Tarantino.

His outstanding "Mariachi" trilogy is undeniably a western epic of a unique and different kind.  Sin City is not the bright and cheerful comic book movie that Spider-Man or X-Men is, but created a new stylized green screen shooting style that is now often-repeated (300 and even Avatar).  The Spy Kids trilogy was 3D before 3D was cool.  He brought sci-fi and horror to the seemingly innocent teen movie (The Faculty).  Rodriguez even found time to revamp Predators in his image this past year.  Finally, who else could take a road-heist movie and turn it into a vampire movie like From Dusk Till Dawn?

When he and Tarantino took their resumes and influences and decided to tackle the "grindhouse" style of films from the 1970's in 2007, no one was surprised and everyone was excited to see the modern results.  Merged together, Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Tarantino's Death Proof showed why three-hour-plus double feature grindhouse movies died off in the first place.  While visually sharp and spot on for authentic styling, they were too long and too out-there for modern audiences.

The one good thing to come out of that experiment was Machete.  As many of you may know, Machete was made as a fake-for-fun trailer put between the two grindhouse movies, right along side the equally wild selections of Werewolf Women of the S.S. and Thanksgiving.  For two-and-a-half minutes, Rodriguez veteran performer Danny Trejo played "Machete" and painted a story of a double-crossed Mexican out for revenge working with the help of his shotgun-toting priest brother Cheech Marin.  The one-liners were as thick as the nudity and blood and it became more popular than the full movies it sat between.

When cult audiences yearned for more, Rodriguez decided to go in and make the full Machete movie.  With a full budget and an ingenious cast of characters, the 2010 result is better "grindhouse" style than both Planet Terror and Death Proof while also echoing the fun of blaxploitation and Charles Bronson films.  Don't get me wrong.  It's terrible like a grindhouse house film and a B-movie is supposed to be, but that's the point and that notion gives the movie its fun.

Machete fills in the blanks from the original fake trailer.  Danny Trejo is a former Mexican Federale named after his weapon of choice who lost everything back home in Mexico to the ruthless drug kingpin Torrez (a back-from-the-straight-to-DVD-dead Steven Seagal, who's about as Mexican as this leprechaun movie reviewer is).  Just like the trailer, he's now an illegal immigrant who's given an offer he can't refuse by Booth (Jeff Fahey of TV's Lost) to assassinate John McLaughlin, the anti-immigration Senate candidate for Texas, played by Academy Award winner (I have to say it) Robert DeNiro, who's truly having fun in more than a cameo role.

When that score goes bad, Machete becomes a hunted renegade and fugitive.  Hot on his trail are Torrez, Booth, Booth's coked-out nun-attired daughter (the most natural part Lindsey Lohan has ever played), a hot Immigration officer (Jessica Alba), a hot leader of the underground Mexican resistance (Michelle Rodriguez), and Von Jackson (an equally resurrected Don Johnson), a twisted Gen. Custer-wannabe border vigilante leading a small cavalry that works for McLaughlin.  That's a lot of heat (in more ways than one), but a stern-faced old-school killer like Machete can handle all comers.

As aforementioned, Machete is preposterous, fakely hyper-violent, and unrealistic in all scope and scale on purpose.  For that, it's a creative success and a lot of manly fun for what it is supposed to be.  All of the actors involved deliver their lines with growling straight faces and devious intention.  Every Mexican stereotype in the book comes into play.  Hapless victims get great creative deaths and Robert Rodriguez's accumulates style points in every shot as only he can.  Machete, like a lot of Rodriguez's films, will creep up on many people's charts as a "so-bad-it's-good" guilty pleasure.  At the same time, it's still all a little much and probably should have stayed the two-and-a-half minute tease that it originally was.

LESSON #1: SCREEN THE PEOPLE YOU HIRE-- This lesson isn't about the hiring of illegal immigrants (though the social issue gets its play in this movie, see Lesson #3).  This isn't a "don't send a boy to do a man's job" scenario.  This lesson is purely in the territory of "you f#@*ed with the wrong Mexican!"  Don't pick trained killers and ex-government agents as patsies and then double-cross them.  You will bring a world of hurt upon you!  Oh, and, uh "Machete don't text...."

LESSON #2: DON'T LET ANYBODY FOOL YOU; BIGGER IS BETTER-- In Machete, everything is stylized to peak of excess and it works.  The kills and wounds are bigger.  The cars and stereotypes are bigger.  And the guns and knives are bigger too.  By the end of the movie, Danny Trejo's trademark weapon might as well be William Wallace's claymore from Braveheart.  The effect is pure showmanship!

LESSON #3: THE ENDLESS DEBATE OF IMMIGRATION LAWS-- Surprisingly, somewhere amidst all of the blood, limbs, topless women, and salsa, the movie couldn't be more well-timed and fueled by the great debate about border control and illegal immigration from Mexico.  The movie creates an interesting point-of-view.  Rodriguez himself is American, born in San Antonio and works out of El Paso, but is clearly sympathetic to the Mexican cause.  It paints illegals as heroes and loudmouth politicians and trigger-happy law enforcement as the bad guys.  Gee, that's not going to rub anyone the wrong way...