Dir: Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez
20th Century Fox
Is there something wrong when a Robert Rodriguez film about an ex-federale hacking his way through scores of rednecks and crooked politicians more or less captures the current zeitgeist? I mean, any film starring Lindsay Lohan as a drug-addled slut must be doing something right. In a time where television personalities like Lou Dobbs resign after spreading virulent lies about immigration, it’s quite amazing that it takes a grindhouse knock-off to expose some of the untruths floating around our country and set straight our dependence on day labor.
With the same gleeful abandon that marked early work like El Mariachi and Desperado, Rodriguez finds his way back to the balls-out ridiculous after a few years of Spy Kids films and a foray into comics with Sin City. What began as a joke trailer before Rodriguez’s Planet Terror installment in Grindhouse has a become a full blooded film that definitely trumps the zombie/horror knock-off it once proceeded. Maybe it’s the current horseshit going down in Arizona right now or America’s continual xenophobia to immigrants, but Machete hits all the right notes while decapitating and disemboweling the bad guys.
Like El Norte’s naughty cousin, Machete captures the illegal immigrant in America experience through a dirty lens. It begins when Mexican cop, the tattooed Machete (Danny Trejo) is betrayed by his comrades and his wife murdered. Three years later, he has escaped to the United States, trying to blend in as a day laborer, when he is hired by a crooked politician (Jeff Fahey, oozing smarm) to assassinate racist state senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), a politician not only bent on forcing all illegals out of America, but also on building an electric fence to make sure they stay out. But when Machete is double-crossed, he learns his old enemy Torres (Steven Seagal, wisely choosing this over The Expendables) is behind the whole hit. Wait a minute? A Mexican drug lord wants a racist senator elected? Somehow it all makes sense.
Machete somehow deftly manages the absurd while making a deft political statement. While Trejo does little except growl, bed hotties like Michelle Rodriguez’s taco stand owner/leader of an underground movement and Jessica Alba’s immigration agent and find creative ways to kill people, Rodriguez allows the film’s supporting characters to expose so many things going wrong in America right now. Don Johnson takes a turn as a radical redneck named Von Jackson whose fringe militia is somehow involved in the whole mess. And look no further to Fahey’s dinner table featuring tacos in large flour tortillas and stuffed with cheddar cheese.
I will be the first to admit that Machete is not great art. Like most Rodriguez films, it has too many characters stuffed into its limited running time and by the time the climactic final battle arrives some strands have been forgotten or left dangling. But unlike most movies I’ve seen recently, Machete feels alive on screen, made me laugh, made me cringe during some of its goriest moments and presented another side to an issue that the right has been politicizing unanswered for far too long. Rather than elect another liberal douchebag too afraid to point out how much our country depends on day laborers, I’m voting for Machete!
by David Harris