Monday, September 6, 2010

Review: Machete

Machete (2010, Robert Rodriguez)

Directly inspired by a mock trailer which appeared in 2007’s Grindhouse, Machete is a very Grindhouse-like adventure filled to the brim with sufficient nudity, crass language and over the top gory violence to satisfy the needs of just about any schlock film connoisseur. Workaholic actor Danny Trejo stars as a Mexican ex-federal marshal named Machete (and pronounce with a Spanish ring to it, will you?) who in the opening scenes learns just how corrupt his country has become while performing one of his last jobs before being exiled to the United States. After spending 3 years north of the border as a down on his luck labourer, he is hired by Booth (Jeff Fahey), a sleazy business who shall award Machete with 150,000 dollars in cash is the latter executes the Texas senator running for re-election, Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). When Machete is betrayed just prior to pulling the trigger, he sets himself on a mission of personal revenge which shall pit him against the likes of Booth, the Senator and an old enemy drug lord from Mexico, Torrez (Steven Seagal). On his side are special agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) and a Mexican born woman, Luz, (Michelle Rodriguez) who helps illegal immigrants get a fresh start in the United States, but of course just runs a taco stand as a cover. Oh right, Lindsay Lohan plays Booth’s drug addict daughter and Cheech Marin is a priest who wields shotguns in the name of justice.

The question on everyone’s mind heading into Machete was whether or not the film could live up to 3 years of hype and fanboy dreams after that now famous trailer that had grindhouse movie fans drooling in 2007. More importantly however was the question about keeping the story of Machete fresh and fun enough that he wouldn’t overstay his welcome. It’s one thing to drool over a 2 ½ minute trailer, but as we all know, it can be an entirely different story when the 105 minute feature length production doesn’t live up to expectations. For the most part, the answer to those two questions is yes. Robert Rodriguez’s career is filled with some of the most over the top action and horror movies you’ll see. Sin City, Planet Terror, the El Mariachi trilogy, he is a director who enjoys relishing in excess, surprising audiences and making them laugh with whatever insane deaths and erotic sequences he can come up with. That’s arguably why there are never been any unanimous opinion on his work and sensibilities as a writer and director. It’s hard to please everyone when you’re always going for what one hopes will comes across as outrageous as possible. I think the most significant criticism that one can attribute to a director the likes of Rodriguez is perhaps a lack of ambition. Sure, it takes times and a dedicated crew and actors to make movies like Machete, but there aren’t a whole lot of brains to the endeavour.

With this current outing, Rodriguez offers another platter of splatter which delivers the goods if you are looking for that sort of entertainment. Danny Trejo remains fully in character from start to finish, what with his cold, deadly stare and those bad ass kills he performs on the flick of a whim. Sometimes he doesn’t even need to do much to dispatch a foe, as is demonstrated in one of the movie’s funniest scenes in which Machete keeps avoiding an opponent’s kicks and punches while munching on a burrito. Other times his creativity will kick in, as in the scene when, while trying to escape thugs in a hospital, he creates a sort of whip with operating knives attached to the end. Machete whips that little sucker around like cowboy tosses his lasso around cattle. That brings me to something about Rodriguez’s style as a storyteller and director: he understands what his audience wants. The buckets of blood and gore that are dispersed long the streets and walls of Texas re fine and dandy, but there is inherent comedic value in the insanity that runs through the picture. Things never get truly gritty, most of what happens on screen has a decidedly campy value to it, so the viewer can simply sit back, relax and laugh their heads off has Machete blows people’s heads off. The film is nonsensical in its depiction of men, woman and violence, but in the world Rodriguez creates, that is something to be laughed at, and laugh we do. The cast is obviously enjoying themselves, and some of them are so perfectly cast it would be difficult to imagine anybody else in their roles. Michelle Rodriguez, who I’ve always felt was an underrated actress, knows how to deliver lines with the exact sort of earnestness that makes the scenes so much fun, while Jessica Alba, an actress whom I’m actually not very fond of, does seem to clue in on that this is all preposterous and manages to play along as well. Probably the one character most people will come away with the fondest memories of is Padre, played by Cheech Marin. The dialogue, the attitude, two double wielding shotguns, he is unquestionably the funniest and wildest creation in the movie.

There are a couple things that held the film back from being a completely religious experience, and both are intimately related. The first is the number of side characters and their respective storylines. Every gets some shining moments and little plot threads, some of which feel more deserved than others, and the more of them Rodriguez piles on the more I wondered why the movie needed so many people in it. Was this also a joke on how silly grindhouse films were? I don’t know, but the story did become a tad convoluted by the hour mark, which brings me to my second negative criticism: the titular character begins to feel like a supporting player himself at times, especially as the story develops. I’ll admit that attempting to genuinely develop Machete into something more three-dimensional could have easily fallen flat on its face, and maybe that’s why some many other characters earn more and more screen time the deeper we get into the plot, but I found it odd how Machete felt less and less important. He gets his fight with Steven Seagal at the end, which is all I could have asked for really, but I thought the focus of the story shied away from Danny Trejo a bit too much in the latter stages.

This is going to be a rather brief review. I won’t deny the fact that, while I wanted to write a little piece on Machete because I enjoyed it and would like to see it do better than its very meek opening weekend box office performance, I don’t have that much to say about it. It’s good fun, with a number of laughs and entertaining kills to keep one occupied for a little over an hour and a half, but it wasn’t as tight and focussed as I would have liked it to be. Something this trashy should have had a more simplistic story arc and avoid adding subplot after subplot. If you liked Grindhouse, I don’t see how in the world you won’t like Machete.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree on the characters. There are just too many and they take away the focus from Machete and make the plot more convoluted than it needed to be.

Action films don't need to be as complex and intricate as so many are making them out to be. Whatever happened to just a series of scenes of a many slowly dispatching his foes? What's with all this plot nonsense?

edgarchaput said...

Oh, you and I are on exactly the same page. I thought about writing just that in my review in fact, the desire for an action film that doesn't require incredibly intricate plots, just one simple goal for the protagonist and a bunch of sucker for him (or her) to mow down.