Hey! Don’t hate. The title is a reference to Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie. It’s a line that’s always stuck with me and having now seen Machete, it’s totally appropriate. I don’t know what happened but at some point in the last couple of years, the people producing action movies must have gotten together, smoked cigars and chewed on expensive food all day long and decided that the one thing that America needed right now is balls-out bonkers body count movies. This year suffered a pretty dry movie season until just recently when both Machete and The Expendables came down with the most nad-crushing fury the movie going public had ever seen. Maybe it’s a symptom of a society on the verge of collapse. Back in the latter part of the 80’s, the American action movie also became pretty vicious and we wound up with some seriously violent and awesome legends like Predator, Robocop and Die Hard. So I guess it just takes the looming threat of social system failure to spur pop culture into action. I guess it’s not such a bad thing. If there’s anything good to come of endless war in the Middle East and a financial crisis that shows no sign of easing, it’s that our collective American anxiety is being fuelled constructively by Stallone and Robert Rodriguez. With the bar set so high, I can’t wait to see what summer 2011 looks like. I suppose you could do a lot worse. Rather than buy a ticket to Machete, you could be buying a plane ticket to DC just to wave some horrifically misspelled and culturally insensitive sign around at some fucking Glenn Beck rally. God, I hope that asshole dies of testicular cancer.
I don’t really know how Rodriguez gets away with it, either. I’m not even a big fan of the guy. His movies are rather hit or miss with me but when he hits, it’s a god damn bullseye. At a really important time in independent film history, he hit a home run in Hollywood with El Mariachi and somehow managed to scare the entire film industry into doing his bidding. He’s a one-man-show, too. Something that frightens the unions so badly, they’d consider revealing the location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body just so he doesn’t take off and shoot entire features without their involvement. Rodriguez wrote a book about it. I can’t recommend it, enough. It’s a real inspiration if you’re an aspiring filmmaker. If you want to make movies and have not yet read Rebel Without A Crew, I’m going to strongly suggest that you stop reading these words right now and click on this motherfucking link. You want to read his book. There. Read it? Continue.
Machete was a federale in Mexico until his last mission for the Mexican authorities had him going solo against Torrez, one of Mexico’s fiercest drug lords. When his family is killed and Torrez leaves Machete for dead, he turns up in Texas as a day laborer. During the particularly hot climate of Texas senate races, where illegal immigration is at the top of the list, Machete is given a great deal of money by a shady king-maker to kill Senator McLaughlin, whose central platform is closing the border with an electric fence to stop Mexicans from sneaking in. This goes wrong, however, and puts Machete on the run and out for revenge. The only people that can help him is the leader of an underground railroad for illegals, an INS agent and entire Lone Star State population of undocumented day laborers. Everybody gets their had cut off and Machete swings out a hospital window hanging on to some guys guts. Not sold yet? Allow me to make love to this movie in a very abstract sense.
Machete is awesome. That’s really all I can say about it. So there’s your review, I guess. No, seriously. It’s a no bullshit celebration of b-movies from start to finish. It’s an extension of the legacy of Grindhouse, a movie so disastrous in a box office sense that it nearly crushed Miramax as a production studio. Years of exciting independent movie history nearly undone by a weird idea from Rodriguez and Tarantino that most of the viewing public failed to grasp. Remember this? It was one of the fake trailers shown before Planet Terror when that movie and Death Proof were actually smaller parts of a bigger movie. Before they split them up, ruined them and released them as two DVDs (Don’t worry, the theatrical version is coming to Blu-ray soon).
Machete is ridiculous, irresponsible fun. It’s Escape From New York wrapped in a flour tortilla. Danny Trejo, one of the finest supporting heavies of the last fifteen years, finally steps into his own feature and while I don’t necessarily think that he was made to be a leading man, he floats the picture with that scowl of his that I’m pretty sure is chiselled on to his face permanently (even though I’m told he’s a wicked nice guy). The Escape From New York reference also extends beyond me projecting my favorite movie into this one. The first time Machete meets up with Booth, played to slimy perfection by Jeff Fahey, the shots are intentionally reminiscent of John Carpenter’s dystopian classic. The scene even transitions to a panning shot of a table loaded with weapons. Later on, images of the Texas wall are shown on a computer screen exactly like the Manhattan Island Prison in Escape From New York. I’m pretty sure that Rodriguez and I could seriously bro-down about that movie since I know it’s a favorite of his and I’ve watched in Spanish on Univision just because I refused to buy the bare bones DVD that was out at the time and had to stop and watch it every time I saw it on the schedule.
The cast is one of the obvious draws of the movie and like I said before, I don’t know how Rodriguez does it. I can only imagine that he has a magical, super outgoing personality that just makes you want to be friends with him because he somehow conned Robert DeNiro, Don Johnson (one of the movie most understated and underused villains) and Stephen Segal who, as much as it pains me to say this, is fucking great in this movie. This is not to sell short the outstanding contributions from Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba (who thanks to Rodriguez and recently Michael Winterbottom is finally showing everyone that she’s actually a pretty good actress). Michelle Rodriguez, in the past, has pretty much found her way as the resident chick badass in just about everything she’s been in but her obvious feminine charms are usually hidden beneath layers of body armor until she’s recognizable as just another guy in the cast. I just wish there was something to be said about Lindsay Lohan other than her role not requiring her to do much more than scrape herself off the floor of the Viper Room’s ladies room after spending the night sniffing the coke she spilled off the floor. She’s just a sad story and even after jail time, it’s pretty clear that her True Hollywood Story is going to end on the inside of a fucking body bag. Oh well. She is just a shell of a woman. I’m not even sure what she’s doing here other than providing a somewhat creepy scene where it’s implied that she and her mother double team Machete in the pool at their palatial estate. Ugh.
What else can I say? It’s fucking absurd and an extremely enjoyable action flick from top to bottom. The ensemble cast would overwhelm the movie in any other context but Rodriguez handles everything like the pro that he is. It’s funny at times, bringing to mind the general commentary about illegal day laborers and Machete armed with a weed whacker. It’s savage and violent pretty much the whole time and Rodriguez even finds time for a naked woman to pull a cell phone out of her cooch. And it’s not a small one, either. Given the other two pieces of the Grindhouse fanchise, Machete fits right in. It’s a love letter to a bygone era of film that doesn’t feel like the others with the forced nostalgia and obnoxious nods to every god damn movie the director ever seen. Escape From New York homages notwithstanding, of course.A good exploitation movie serves as a time capsule of the era it was produced in and even though Machete was going for a sort of old-school feel, it deftly addresses one of the strongest social issues of our time. Just don’t go looking for answers or deep symbolism, you’ll just hurt yourself.
What can I say? Machete is awesome.
Wait. I already said that.