If anything, Robert Rodriguez knows how to shoot a bunch of super cool little bits and cut them into a spectacularly badass trailer, which is exactly what he did when he made the fake “Machete” trailer that opened “Grindhouse”. What he doesn’t quite seem to know how to do is how to make a movie that doesn’t also seem like a bunch of super cool little bits. This might be the first time he actually extends a trailer to feature length, but almost all of his films feel like that already, the notable exceptions being his very faithful adaptation of Frank Miller’s “Sin City” and the Quentin Tarantino-written “From Dusk Till Dawn”.
I think I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating: the thing with Rodriguez is that he always gives you exactly what you expect, but he rarely takes it to the next level, subverting expectations and making something truly memorable, like Tarantino does. “Machete” is an entertaining watch for sure, but it’s not the Mexploitation masterpiece it could have been. For better or worse, it’s just another chapter in the “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” series…
…except that instead of Danny Trejo being relegated to a supporting part, he’s the star here, dominating the screen as the titular Machete, an ex-Federale day laborer who’s framed by a shady businessman (Jeff Fahey with a mullet) into participating in an assassination attempt on Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro in kind of a role reversal from “Taxi Driver”, in which he was the one trying to kill a senator), a Texan politician running on a hard-line anti-illegal immigrants platform.
The not-so-interesting plot also involves a conflicted immigration officer (Jessica Alba), the leader of an underground revolution (Michelle Rodriguez), a border patrol vigilante (Don Johnson), a priest (Cheech Marin), a contract killer (Tom Savini), a slutty junkie with daddy issues (Lindsay Lohan, more or less as herself), as well as Torrez (Steven Seagal, back on the big screen after almost a decade of direct-to-video productions), the drug cartel kingpin who’s more or less directly responsible for all the mayhem that occurs in the film.
“Machete” opens with a pre-credits sequence so relentlessly gory and outrageous that we figure that we’re in for one hell of a ride, but while there’s plenty of violence and action throughout, there are also many exposition scenes. If those were all on the level of the rather witty moments of Verhoeven-style sociopolitical satire sprinkled here and there, it’d be fine, but most are rather dull and badly written.
Obviously, “Machete” is at its best when it’s content with showing the longhaired, mustachioed, leathery-skinned, tattooed Danny Trejo stabbing motherfuckers with everything he can get his hands on, from medical instruments to kitchenware, gardening tools and machetes, natch. Alas, even action-wise, the flick loses steam at some point and becomes a bit repetitive, if not tiresome. That being said, I would still recommend the flick to fans of Rodriguez’s brand of Tex-Mex splatstick. Just don’t expect it to be anything more than what it is.