9/3/10

Review: Machete (2010)


Robert Rodriguez's and Ethan Maniquis's Machete is a hyperviolent, laugh-a-minute, wry, brilliant mix of max Mexploitation, "South Park" riots, scenery-chewing, bloody revenge and bright comedic political commentary from the one and only Robert Rodriguez y familia. Watch it.

It's simultaneously a tougher-than-nails, over-the-top-of-the-top exploitation film itself, a parody of exploitation films that hardly dreamed of the level of violence here, a pretty smart political farce/satire and a joy to behold. How is this even possible? We can only watch and learn. Machete is one of Rodriguez's best best movies.

Based on Danny Trejo's multi-dimensional character, who appeared as weapons expert Uncle Machete in the Spy Kids movies and in a fake trailer for this movie in the Grindhouse double feature directed by Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, here we get Machete's federale origin story in Mexico before the (awesome) opening credits and a new adventure in Austin, Texas, after.

I say "multi-dimensional" about Machete Cortez not because he does more than say wry things, kill people and be irresistible to women, but because this story takes place in a different movie world than the kids-adventure Spy Kids films. This film is more of a fairy tale than a fantasy like the previous ones. Cheech Marin and Daryl Sabara also appear from those films, as slightly different characters, though Sabara, aged at least a month, still plays Machete's sobrino, if only in the sense popularized by Snoop Dogg.

Like Lisbeth in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Machete escapes from official corruption to wander into further official corruption, mostly beyond his control or ability to walk away. The confrontations are inevitable. Like George Clooney's Jack in The American, his choices are to kill, be killed or abandon himself entirely, and also like Clooney's character, Machete, faced with such choices, eats well, hides out and takes full advantage of his irresistibility to women, between killings.

I hesitate to describe too much of the plot, but it's not really a spoiler to say that after betrayal in Mexico, Machete wanders across the border with little hope or direction and becomes enmeshed in political schemes which involve him with Jeff Fahey's Michael Booth, an aide to state senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro, funny, not slumming), Don Johnson's border vigilante Von Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez's taco-truck operator involved with a Mexican immigrant "Network" and Jessica Alba's beautiful Latina ICE agent with conflicted loyalties. Along the way, he gets help from his brother, the forward-thinking Padre (Cheech Marin).

It's an excuse for a crazy, hilarious, shoot-'em-up "South Park" episode of a Robert Rodriguez film. The political machinations are ridiculous, sharp and witty, in a realm of political commentary which completely embraces the absurd alongside some more believable developments and still makes a ton of cogent political statements with its violence, humor and silliness. It never misses one possible joke. There's even the familiar refrain, "Oh my God! They killed"--whomsoever. "The Network" alone is a brilliant play on the current immigration imbroglio, subversive, sublime and funny just as an idea, and also in how it plays out. Steven Seagal plays Mexicano. Lindsay Lohan plays herself as a nun.

Machete features great performances from Trejo, De Niro, Fahey, Don Johnson, Cheech, Michelle Rodriguez, Alba, Sabara, Seagal and Lohan. It has non-stop action and laughs, with visual action jokes worthy of the Latino love child of Buster Keaton and Sam Peckinpah. It's Robert Rodriguez's Coffy, Cleopatra Jones, Kill Bill, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka and A Day Without a Mexican all rolled into one. Machete is also a "Nash Bridges," Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Heat and Spy Kids reunion, if you're keeping track. It's the movie I wanted Once Upon a Time in Mexico to be.

They were giving out free taco coupons after one of the (two) times I've seen it so far, but I didn't take one to avoid its influencing this review. You're welcome. As with Piranha 3D and The Expendables, the level of violence here is so high that the squeamish must be warned away, and tacos might not seem so appealing afterward anyhow. But don't be squeamish and warned-away. If you watch Machete now, you'll be all ready for Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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