Sunday, September 5, 2010

Machete - Theatrical Review

Screened at the AMC 30 Theater at the Block  in Digital.

They f****d with the wrong Mexican

Release Date: September 3, 2010

Machete started out as an idea from its director, Robert Rodriguez as a starring vehicle for his long time collaborator Danny Trejo. That idea soon turned into one of the more popular aspects of the Grindhouse double feature released a couple years ago as an opening trailer for a movie that did not exist beyond what was seen in that trailer. Luckily for us, that popularity spurred Robert Rodriguez and company on to go ahead and create the movie in its entirety which has become the first movie to be made based solely on the merits of its initial trailer and not the through the usual Hollywood system. So, the question remains...did Robert Rodriguez give Danny Trejo the movie he deserved...? Read on to find out...

Danny Trejo is a modern day movie icon. Not in the same sense as those big Hollywood stars, but because of how many movies this man has been in (look at his IMDB page, the man has over 16 projects in production at the moment). This movie, his first true starring role, has been a long time in the coming now. It is not only a role that he was born to play, but also a movie that was owed to all his fans everywhere as well. For years now we have seen Mr. Trejo in the background of many other movies from such notables as 1995's Heat and just about any movie that called for a Mexican bad-ass like 1997's Con Air. Finally we have him in Machete, a crazy awesome mixture of old school action and exploitation along with a crazy cool cast to help back him up for once.

Steven Seagal as a Mexican cartel gang boss...I can buy that.
In the opening scene in Mexico we see Machete (Danny Trejo, Everything), a Federali agent, rescuing a hostage from the drug cartel kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal, Above the Law). He ends up losing everything he cares for and three years later we find him living in Texas as an illegal alien day laborer. While he struggles to survive there are other players scheming to get a piece of the American pie around him along with those that have vowed to stop them. You have Luz (Michelle Rodriguez, The Fast and The Furious), the owner of a quaint little taco truck who is also secretly running "The Network", a sort of unofficial gateway program for illegals crossing the American border. She is being under surveillance by I.C.E. agent Sartana (Jessica Alba, Sin City) who is conflicted and has a hard time deciding between what is law and what is right.

Then there are the politicians, Booth (Jeff Fahey, Lawnmower Man) is the chief aide of Texas Senator re-elect McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro, Heat) whom likes to take trips down to the border with local vigilante leader Vaughn (Don Johnson, Tin Cup) and shoot some illegals crossing the border from time to time. Senator McLaughlin is a hard hitter when it comes to illegal immigration but his polls have been slacking. In order to rectify that, Booth decides to hire some rundown pathetic illegal immigrant off the streets to frame for his assassination attempt to help build sympathy for the poor Senator. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the criminal organization, that poor rundown pathetic illegal immigrant turns out to be Machete, who is anything but that.

Machete gets the job done... 
While that story is the focal point for much of the action and it seems that Robert Rodriguez is using this as a sort of sly way to get some sort of political message across, it is easily not what this movie is about. This movie is about glorious unconstrained violence and the rampant female nudity of an exploitation movie. Danny Trejo is not asked to do much more than he has in past movies, but here he gets to be the star and with that title comes all the rewards. He has sex with just about every woman he comes across (unless he doesn't want to that is), he kills everyone in a rather grotesque manner and he always comes out on top.

This must be said though...this movie is a mess. And I don't mean a mess as in bloody mess (although that works as well), but a mess in a narrative sense. Now, hey I know what this movie is supposed to be and high art it isn't. But the way this movie is structured is kind of distractingly bad, and not in the good exploitation way the other grindhouse movies were. I have come to the opinion that Robert Rodriguez cannot handle a huge ensemble cast of characters. Just look at his last two features, Planet Terror and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (Sin City I don't count since that was an adaptation) both of which also had a huge cast to juggle.

Machete gets the women...
Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the best example here as that film also had the same type of political statements with how the government (albiet the Mexican government that time) and the drug cartels were working together as all these other side characters weave in and out of the story. That film fell apart due to Rodriguez losing focus on the main story, the main conflict and ended up a very empty story by the end. Machete suffers from this as well, however just like Planet Terror it has that grindhouse/exploitation excuse to fall back on and actually feels intentional here.

Machete the character is on screen more than any of the other characters, but so much screen time is devoted to all these other characters that lead nowhere. The Booth character has this infatuation with his drugged out/wanna-be pornstar daughter April (Lindsay Lohan making fun of herself here) that seems to be leading somewhere but never does. Having one character like that would be fine, however the film is littered with small characters like that that lead nowhere and ultimately are worthless. The conflict between Luz and Vaughn is so underplayed (except for one out of nowhere scene) that when her big scene arrives there isn't really anything to it and its resolution is played off screen for the most part. The only side character that gets to really shine is Cheech Marin playing Machete's Priest brother and even he leaves before we truly get to know him.

I suppose my main gripe is the lack of truly satisfying resolutions for all these conflicts they set up throughout the movie. The Danny Trejo versus Steven Seagal scene was really good but every other character is given the short end of the stick, which leads one to wonder why even bother having those characters in the film in the first place. The movie certainly didn't need them, Danny Trejo would have been enough to carry the whole movie and Steven Seagal would have been a pretty satisfactory villian on his own.

Machete gets kills...
I may be coming off as overly negative but that is only because of how many missed opportunities there were here. Sure, you get the final showdown between Danny Trejo and Steven Seagal, but other characters that deserve a good resolution are sad let downs. Don Johnson's fate is done off-screen and the dial-a-hitman played by cult favorite Tom Savini disappears after his big moment. The final showdown itself, while very funny, is also a huge mess. You get random characters you saw earlier showing up out of nowhere and doing some stuff then some other characters doing some stuff, then the big fight at the end.

I want to say that the grindhouse trailer almost hurt this movie due to them trying to fit every shot of that trailer into this. While I applaud their efforts, every scene from that first trailer feels completely out of place and all are self contained with no explanation. Machete shows up to kill Booth but instead he has sex with his daughter and wife, Machete attaches a mini-gun to the front of some random motorcycle and some random explosion kicks him in the air while he shoots it, Machete must talk is Priest brother into helping him kill some people...all this serves only what was in the trailer, it is all completely out of context in the actual  movie.

Machete gets even.
Other than there being way too many characters in the movie and the sad fact that Jessica Alba cannot act to save her life (her big speech on top of the car near the end made me wish I were deaf) there is still a lot to like here. Like I said before you get to see Danny Trejo be the badass we always knew he could be and you get some completely insanely crazy scenes. You get to see a man get gutted and then have his intestines used as a rappel line. You get to see an army of cholo cars with their hydraulics bouncing them all over the street as they head off to war. You get to see Don Johnson and Steven f*****g Seagal in the same dam movie together!

I believe this movie will hit the right spot for many people looking for a good time at the movies. I also believe that Robert Rodriguez needs to start thinking small again and work with a substantially smaller number of characters in his next film. I also believe that maybe it isn't such a great idea to make a trailer before you have an actual movie to make it from. Finally, I believe that when Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again come out that I will be right there in line with everyone else to see Danny Trejo f*** some more people up. Lastly, all I gotta say is...



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