Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey

Machete is the type of film that Robert Rodriguez has been directing (and producing, for that matter) for years. Films brimming with ideas and characters and mayhem but, despite all that, lacking surprise and any sort of narrative cohesion. His directing skills peaked with the bonkers From Dusk 'til Dawn, and that film owes more to Quentin Tarantino's deft screenplay than Rodriguez's talent behind the camera. Ever since that film solidified not only his career but George Clooney's star power as well, Rodriguez has churned out strong starting/lame finishing film after film and, although Machete is his best movie since From Dusk 'til Dawn, it still continues the director's puzzling streak of exciting but unsatisfying films.

The best parts of Machete happen within the first forty-five minutes, and to be quite honest the film is worth the $10 -$15 and change the multiplexes charge you in this day and age. Danny Trejo (you'd know him if you saw him) is Machete - a Mexican Federale betrayed by a corrupt legal system and left for dead by drug kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal). After taking residence illegally in Texas, Machete is recruited by the mysterious Booth (the scene stealing Jeff Fahey) to assassinate Senator John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro). When Machete is betrayed by Booth, he teams up with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Sartana (a deadly-flat Jessica Alba) to uncover why he was set up. Along the way people are sliced, diced, decapitated, de-armed, de-faced, crucified, cut-up, cut-down and, in one poor bad soul's case, de-eyed with a stiletto heel to the ocular socket.

One of Machete's problems is that there's more to the film than need be; in addition to the A plot described above there's a few other threads the movie bounces to that drain the film of energy, especially when it crosses into the third act. Much like Rodriguez's underrated (but still very flawed) Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Machete is bogged down by too many characters with not enough to do. Some of these characters work (Cheech Marin as a former Federale turned Priest, Michelle Rodriguez as immigrant smuggler/part time revolutionary Luz) while most don't. Lindsey Lohan is especially wasted as Booth's drugged out, computer porn-star daughter April, whose final act should be rousing and provocative, but is instead eye-roll inducing. Don Johnson has a cameo as ultra-racist lawman Lieutenant Stillman, and while he's fun to watch onscreen, his character never quite gets the comeuppance he deserves.

Still, there's much fun to be had with this ode to grind house films of old (when Alba isn't sucking that fun away with her non-acting). Danny Trejo says more with his pock-marked face than any words any screenwriter could give him. (It's a shame his scenes are either balanced out or cut-into entirely by Alba - it's almost as if Rodriguez didn't trust Trejo to the carry the film on his own. Believe me, RR, he's more than capable.) Seagal is appropriately awful as a samurai drug kingpin, and while DeNiro seems sort of lost in the whole affair his last moments are a hoot. It's Jeff Fahey's performance, though, that makes Machete rise above its disappointments to become almost greatness at points. When Fahey busts into a house full of drug dealers and takes each one of them down with the ease of 5 trained assassins, you will believe he is a hard-ass villain worthy of the invincible Machete's wrath. Anyone who's watched the last few seasons of Lost knows what a tremendous asset Fahey was to the production, and with his blue-knife eyes and greasy mullet, he casts an outstanding presence in Machete.

In addition to the cast members that actually work, the film has the bonkers feel of the last third of From Dusk 'til Dawn going for it in parts (although the final battle is way too broad), and Rodriguez knows how creative to get with the kills and how many buckets of blood should be dumped on screen. If anything, Machete does have a number of crowd cheering moments. It's just a shame most of those moments come too early in the film.

 For a movie that never really should have been (it started out as a faux-trailer for the film Grindhouse),  Machete surprisingly works, overall. It's recommendable enough - the great moments are truly great. But the film itself deflates fast, and with too many characters and a thick plot seems longer than it actually is. Machete could have been Rodriguez's first great film in a long while. Instead, it's merely a collection of great moments in a decent film.

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