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Monday, January 24, 2011

Machete (2010) review


Danny Trejo (Machete Cortez), Steven Seagal (Torrez), Jessica Alba (Sartana Rivera), Michelle Rodriguez (Luz), Jeff Fahey (Michael Booth), Robert De Niro (John McLaughlin), Don Johnson (Von Jackson), Cheech Marin (Padre Cortez), Tom Savini (Osiris Amanpour), Lindsay Lohan (April Booth)

Directed by Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez

The Short Version: This 10 million dollar CGI heavy gorefest has some fun action sequences, but is mired by an undeniably heavy atmosphere of political meandering regarding illegal immigrants (I like to refer to it as glorified 'Breaking & Entering') and how unfair what little immigration laws still remain in America. The movie doesn't take itself seriously, but its politics do. There's lots of references/homages to films past and fans of the awful GRINDHOUSE (2007) will no doubt flock to this. It's definitely a better representation of that style of movie if only an average assimilation that gets sloppy towards the end turning into the most expensive movie Troma never made.

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity and violence***

A former Mexican Federal agent dubbed Machete is hired to assassinate a United States Senator in favor of more stringent immigration control. Not planning to pull off the shooting, Machete is set up by the man that hired him and ends up on the run from the law and pursued by Torrez, his old nemesis who left him for dead and murdered his family.

This massively over the top exploitation mess gets off to a good and gory start that successfully emulates the style of 70s filth it trumpets, but then gets lost in an intermittent miasma of left wing double standard bullshit. It's a tongue in cheek action film for about ten minutes then switches over to an angry message movie and back and forth and back and forth it goes till both styles crash and burn in a disappointing finale filled with big, random explosions, neverending gunfire, arbitrary, Troma style shit thrown at the screen and a heavily touted end fight that collapses under its own weight.

MACHETE is one of those movies that occupies an alternate universe where there's no law enforcement, or military presence despite dozens of outlandish explosions and obscene amounts of firepower going off every few minutes. Also, the only people that live in this dimension of dementia are those that propel the story, or those who may as well be wearing a red shirt from STAR TREK. In addition, everyone including non Hispanic's eat nothing but Mexican food. This is fine and all, but where the film loses itself is when it stops being MACHETE and turns into MASHITTY. Rodriguez, or whoever the hell actually directed this thing loves cramming as much far left propaganda down our throats as possible culminating in a laughable smorgasbord of hate speech by Jessica Alba atop the roof of a car at the end. And since the movie takes great pride in shouting a lot of pablum, I will take this time to spout some of my own--

It's nigh impossible to watch this film and not be smacked in the face with its rabble rousing proclamations of "Take what you want by force!" whether you actually earn it, or not. Any sensible human being should be able to comprehend that a massive influx of illegals (regardless of race) is not good for any economy. Forget for a moment that these people have come here using ILLEGAL means. Jobs are taken and given to those who work for less and who ultimately have no long term desire to stay here; the money is then sent back to Mexico for future use and not put back into the economy. These illegals also have no desire to learn the very language of the country they elusively penetrate and most have the gall to expect those who were born here to learn THEIR language in order to communicate! Also, claims that Mexicans only do work that Americans won't do is bullshit. Numerous factories around the country hire illegals to supplement their payroll without having to pay out for insurance. Double standard? Maybe. The harm done to the economy keeps companies from seeing stable profits that enable them to thrive sufficiently. Furthermore, the argument that the purported greed of said big companies perpetuates the problem by hiring illegals DOES NOT negate the fact that said individuals have used covert means to get into a country they really don't want to be in in the first place.

Forget for a moment that these individuals have gotten here ILLEGALLY, foregoing the proper channels to lay a rightful claim of residence. I know, I know, it's too much trouble to let go of some of those pesos to take the test, or learn the language to become a legit citizen in America, the land of all that opportunity. Meanwhile, illegals come here with no papers, no drivers license, no insurance (and those that do don't keep it long). I've delivered HUNDREDS of 'Return To Sender' insurance statements back to companies for those with claims against them that have suddenly disappeared only to turn up under a different name later (I used to work with two different Joel Espinoza's and another I saw on the news that had been pulled from a river having drowned). Forget for a moment that these individuals have (sneakily) gotten here ILLEGALLY. Hispanic gang activity has risen at an alarming rate in recent years, too. We already have enough garbage here murdering citizens without south of the border drug cartels adding to the statistics. Not to mention illegals who end up in the hospital for whatever ailment/injury, what have you, and eventually disappear leaving the bills un-collected which is left for taxpayers to pick up the tab. Forget for a minor moment in time that many of these people come here ILLEGALLY.

Do you know how illegal immigration is handled in Mexico? Unless you've committed a serious crime, why would you want to infiltrate that country and start a life there in the first place? I don't know, but for a race of people who condemn us for wanting to crack down on those who use law breaking methods to get over here, they are far more strict on enforcing the very laws of ours they protest against. Is maintaining economic stability and offering endless opportunistic equality for legitimate citizens such a bad thing? If you don't do it the right way, you have no right to be here, plain and simple. If I go to Mexico, I am obligated to learn the damn language and the same should apply for those who decide instead to jump a wall, scurry through the sewer, or sneak over hidden in a big barrel of refried beans. It's great to want to make ones life better, but do it the RIGHT way for crying out loud. The government may as well make breaking and entering legal while they're at it, this is essentially the same thing. Stealing is still stealing no matter how you look at it. MACHETE might be "escapist entertainment" at heart, but it plasters a dangerous message as much as it tries to be a 70s throwback.

This is the main problem I have with this movie. Had the film stayed its course and left the oppressive preachiness to a minimum, it would have been a far more enjoyable experience. There's no balance here. The film can't make up its mind if it wants to be a political picture, or the 'B' movie equivalent of a Banana Split with all the high calorie toppings. Instead of the subtext being an underlying theme, it's in your face, holding the viewer at gunpoint. Romero gets accused of being heavy handed, but this makes the zombie king's messages look like a moot point. For a far better expression of a wild action/socio-political presentation, see RR's ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003).

Now that that's out of the way, speaking of action, Rodriguez is far more talented than his frequent sidekick, Tarantino when it comes to handling mindless gun battles, stunts and creatively grim gore spots. RR would have made a great addition to the Shaw Brothers stable of directors back in the day as those crimson saturated HK adventures displayed some of the most ingeniously gruesome methods of dispatch in cinema history. Here, there's a quadruple decapitation scene that recalls many of Chang Cheh's early swordplay movies where a slew of villains are slain with a single whirlwind sword strike from the hero.

Danny Trejo might be old, but his gravely, chiseled features impress a great deal without the aid of make up. The inspiration for Machete would seem to be ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK's Snake Plissken as well as the knife throwing assassin he played in DESPERADO (1995). There's a scene where Machete is shown a selection of weapons for him to choose from that recalls Carpenter's movie as well as Trejo's mostly silent performance save for some sporadic catch phrases. Two additional movies are threatened if the end credits are anything to go by. Hopefully, the filmmakers will leave the force fed political jargon at home.

Rodriguez is also successful at making his female stars overflow with sexiness. Jessica Alba isn't memorable at all (saddled with the spaghetti western name of Sartana), but her body language is despite her CGI'ed nude shower shot. Michelle Rodriguez fares far better and doesn't need to be naked to ooze sexuality as the Che Guevera styled Luz aka She. The seductive, full lipped Mayra Leal sheds it all during the opening sequence that's better than the entire film. Totally nude, she takes a cue from Japanese cinema--instead of a blade coming from between her legs, it's a cellphone.

Jessica Alba did this scene with underwear on which was digitally removed in post.

Lindsay Lohan, despite her bad attitude and obliviousness to obeying the law (hey, it fits with this movies theme, doesn't it?), got a lot of praise for her role, which is bizarre considering she's barely onscreen at all and is essentially playing herself as Fahey's drug addicted daughter. She has a nude scene, too, in a strange incestuous romp that recalls a similar scene in the borderline porn of BLACK SHAMPOO (1976). However, Lohan's strip off is obscured by either body doubles, or a carefully placed arm and long hair. Towards the end, she dons a nuns outfit and with a big hand gun, does her best Zoe Tamerlis impersonation from Abel Ferrara's hard hitting and artsy vigilante-rape revenge classic, MS. 45 (1981).

Tom Savini, horror cinema's favorite practical special effects ace, has a minor, thankless role as a hitman who vanishes towards the end; Jeff Fahey adds substance to his character; Don Johnson is at the beginning and forgotten about till the end; Robert De Niro embarrasses himself as the Senator in bed with the bad guys and Cheech Marin has another extended cameo. Funnily enough, one of his lines of dialog is borrowed from the number one spaghetti western hit of 1967, GOD FORGIVES...I DON'T!, the first pairing of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.

Steven Seagal (the star of HARD TO FILL 1990, OUT TO LUNCH 1991 and UNDER FED 1992) takes time out from a "secret" career as a deputy police officer in Louisiana, being a Tibetan Lama, various sexual harassment charges, cutting a record album and dodging wife/girlfriend beatings to "star" as the main heavy (and I do mean HEAVY!), Torrez. Seagal mumbles through his role whose only real memorable moment is the violence heavy opening segment. By the time the end rolls around, Seagal carefully waddles to his predestined meeting with Machete brandishing a sword that makes noise like the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN when it's unsheathed. This fight scene, heavily hyped throughout, is poorly done with no wide master shot, just close ups of either Trejo, or Seagal swinging their sword in random directions. Either Trejo's age, or Seagal's weight kept this fight from ending the film on a high note.

Executive Producer, Ashok Amritraj might be familiar to those who have followed 'B' actioners and Z grade entertainment since the late 1980s. One of his first vehicles was the stupid beyond words 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA (1985), the movie that successfully assassinated Sho Kosugi's career relegating him to direct to video drivel like BLACK EAGLE (1987) co-starring Jean Claude Van Damme as the lead Russian villain.

Fans of that horrible excuse for an exploitation movie, GRINDHOUSE (2007), will likely lap this up, too. MACHETE is a far better representation of that type of film, although all the "Illegal immigration is good" rhetoric is poured on so thick, it becomes far more over the top than any of the numerous gore scenes. A sloppy, but slightly efficient trash flick with ample nudity, obscenities and a few good action sequences make it a safe bet as a rental.

This review is representative of the Fox DVD


J. Astro said...

Agreed, mostly my man - the whole constant "fuck you America, whoever just wants to come on in and do whatever they want should be able to" vibe of MACHETE very much ruined what could have been just a fun, mindless cheezfest.

venoms5 said...

At first, J, I wondered if it wasn't part of the joke ala Paul Verhoeven style politics, but then they kept doing it over and over and it wasn't played in a jokey manner. I went in with low expectations and assumed I'd be aggravated by that whole spiel, so I got out of it what I was expecting.

Samuel Wilson said...

venom, I liked it better than you did but the ending stunk and the politics definitely go over the top. I imagine Rodriguez thought Seventies films were like that, and I'm sure that, from his perspective, the only reason you wouldn't allow unrestricted immigration is because you're a bigot. Hence the presentation and treatment of his villains. I don't judge a film by its politics, but there was clearly a lack of proportion here.

I also like to think that Rodriguez was saving Savini so there could be a revenge angle for a sequel if it actually happened. But who can say?

venoms5 said...

70s exploitation occasionally flirted with political statements, but not like this. I think it's more than a little convenient all this propaganda is included here in relation to the hot topic of illegal immigration that's been plaguing the news since Obama took office.

He can go on Spanish television and make volatile statements about "Punishing our enemies" (referring to his left wing followers punishing the right) and make comments about those on the right "sitting at the back of the bus" and all that's okay. This opinion is okay, but those that differ are called racists.

Also, No one wants to work, or earn the things they want. People want it handed to them, or despise those who actually worked hard to get what they have and feel it's their right to get it for free. This movie perpetuates too much of that kind of behavior.

George Romero gets a lot of crap for "heavy handed subtext". Well, apparently those critics haven't seen this movie, then, unless those are left wing liberal critics. I don't judge a film by its politics, either, but this was just too damn much. There was more I didn't like than liked minus the political angle, anyway, which I was expecting before I even watched it. This HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN looks like it might actually be a TRUE assimilation of the 70s Drive In style.

J. Astro said...

@ venoms - HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN -does- look dope, and waaaay more legit than MACHETE. Also, in my earlier comment, I forgot to mention that Jessica Alba, while cute 'n all, is the worst and most distracting, over-rated actress that comes to mind. Her constant pronunciation of "ma-CHET-taaay" about drove me up the fucking wall.

venoms5 said...

Dude, ME, TOO!!!! Although everybody else pronounced it that way except for Jeff Fahey. It was like they were trying to give Mexi-Plissken that extra jolt of "larger than life".

Max Evel said...

Call me weird, because I am ...
but I loved this movie, and my other
favorite is Black Dynamite.
Reminds me when I was a kid.

A.D. said...

I didn't really have any problems with the social and political commentary in the film. It never felt preachy to me, and it came across as Rodriguez having fun with such a touchy subject for a lot of people. Either way, I don't care. I went into this wanting to be entertained and to see shit blow up, and that's kinda what I got.

I always have low expectations with Robert Rodriguez films because I think he's a shitty director, quite frankly. MACHETE, like PLANET TERROR, starts out great but gets extremely sloppy towards the end. If I have a legit beef with the movie, it's that there's not enough Cheech and the hottest chick in the entire movie is killed before the opening credits.

Franco Macabro said...

I recently got a chance to re-watch Machet and found many flaws in it, mainly Jessica Alba, she sticks out like sore thumb! She has got to be one of the worst actresses of her generation.

As for the films political message, I didnt take it so much as Rodriguez saying that Illegal Immigration is a good thing, I think he was just commenting on a reality that Texas and the U.S. in general is living through. And more then just being about Mexican's doing something illegal, politicians refer to Mexican in a degrading manner, to gain votes, something that shouldnt be allowed.

There is a pompous attitude in patriotism that scratches on racism. Its this attitude of we are better, and no we wont allow you into our exclusive country club. Come on, this is one big world. Borders are imaginary lines that politians like to draw.

But This is a real issue going on in the U.S. and like all political issues, it always divides. Theres always to sides to the coin. Still, I applaud films that address these issues instead of ignoring them like some sort of dirty secret.

What's this issue going to boil down to? Will the U.S. end up constructing another Berlin wall in the U.S.? Once again dividing humanity...I guess its part of that human nature thing to hate ourselves.

I do think there are contradictions to the whole thing. Like if you dont want Illegal Immigrants in your country, then why do you let companies employ them? I mean, the government KNOWS that these companies employ these illegal immigrants, my question is why do they allow it? If they are so gung ho about Illegal Immigration, then they should take all those illegal Immigrants, take them out of their workplace and send them back to Mexico. But they dont. Why?

Immigrants cross the border for various reasons: Number One being that doing it legally costs a lot of money, and takes years and years to get done.

I lived in North Carolina for a couple of years and got to meet a lot of illegal immigrants. I wasnt one because Im Puerto Rican, and Puerto Rico is territory of the U.S., but I met a lot of Mexicans that worked in factories, most of the time they are uneducated individuals who come from an extremely poor life in Mexico.

They come to the U.S. because they think life will be better once they get to America. Its a desperate move, escaping a bad life, to find a "better" one. I mean, they wouldnt take that risk of crossing the border just like that, considering all the risks involved. They are definetly running away from something far worse. You know man, these are real people, they are not some demographic or whatever, these are people looking to improve their lives in a country they think will do that for them. Problem is that a lot of them dont have the money to do it legally, so they take the desperate route.

Good review man, I agree, this film isnt perfect, and I do agree that the ending is sloppy, that Jessica Alba sucks as an actress, and that the final battle between Machete and Segal should have been way better then what we saw. But I still had fun with it.

They should do a spin off with Michelle Rodriguez's character, she was looking her hottest on this film! I loved 'She', by the end of the film she looked like a comic book character come to life, and a tribute to THEY CALL HER ONE EYE. Rodriguez should be in way more action films!

venoms5 said...

@ Max: I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it, either, I just would have liked it a bit more without all the politics and it ran out of steam by the end and I didn't care how it ended. I haven't seen BLACK DYNAMITE yet save for the trailer. I been meaning to check it out, but have been putting it off after seeing the trailer. Incidentally, I did a exploitation "trailer" for a made up flick called BLACK DYNAMITE back in 2006.

@ Aaron: The best parts for me were the beginning and the hospital scene. Everything else was just okay. If QT had done this, it would have been something entirely different, I'd say, and not in a good way. For me, it was difficult to enjoy the film from all the left wing rhetoric all over the place. I exchanged emails with someone once who had met Rodriguez and stated he wasn't exactly the most friendly, or cordial person to be around. I do think he does action really well and would be curious to see him do a HK film as all his action scenes have that flavor about them.

@ Fran: I don't know anyone who is saying you can't come here, just if you're going to do it, do it the right way. I know far too many Mexican's who come here and refuse to learn English and some of these have told me personally that I NEED TO LEARN THEIR LANGUAGE?!?!?

Sure, there is racism in some cases. We are all racist to an extent, but I've also met Mexicans and worked with a few who came here dirt poor, got their papers legit and feel that a lot of Mexican's are wrong in their attitude once here and also in how they get here as well.

I worked for a company once that had numerous illegals working there. Every seven years they'd go home for a couple months then come back and get their 7 years no taxes all over again. Well, this went on for a while till immigration showed up and deported four of them and charged the company $10,000 a head. Now, they don't hire any Hispanics unless they have legit papers.

It costs between $300 to $500 to get your papers. It's not that difficult. Those who choose the "easy way out" are making excuses for themselves. Anybody who thinks they have a right to be here in an illegal fashion is full of it, especially when they wanna be an ass about it and state we need to learn Spanish. There's lots of places in Mexico where an American can't even go without being killed. I was supposed to go there with a Mexican friend once and he was telling me where we could and couldn't go. It's ridiculous. The government may as well legalize robbery and breaking and entering as it's the same thing.

Franco Macabro said...

Getting them legal papers costs way more then 500 dollars man!

Hey, learning another language is never a bad thing man, specially one as popular as spanish. I went to the U.S. when I was 6 years old and learned english in a couple of months, its helped me so much through out my life, I sometimes speak more english then spanish! Maybe they could teach you spanish and you teach them english and call it even. ;)

I remember that whole conversation we had about Machete a while back on my blog, remember that one?

Hey man, but its all good, this worlds made up of thousands of different views on different subject manners, specially ones like Illegal Immigration! Lets just hope that the whole issue is resolved in the best way possible for both parties.

venoms5 said...

People feeling they have a right to be here/there illegally ruining an already crippled economy is not the way to do it. That's like negating the laws of any country whether America, Mexico, France, Russia, wherever.

I have no problem with learning Spanish. I took it in school, but it's pretty brazen for someone to come here whether illegally or otherwise and expect me or anyone else to learn THEIR language if we wish to communicate. If I went overseas, it would be my obligation and respectful of the people that I should learn to speak said language in some fashion as opposed to saying, "I'm in your country, so you should learn my lingo if you wish to understand me". There are lots of Hispanics who feel those individuals are wrong for this kind of attitude.

Still, I shouldn't be made to feel I should learn a language in a place where the national spoken language is English. Now if I went to Puerto Rico, damn right I need to know some Spanish. I would be stupid to think I can just go to another country and not have some rudimentary grasp over the spoken word there.

Actually, I was learning Mandarin Chinese up until a few years ago and had planned on teaching myself Japanese and Italian at some point, but not sure if, or when this will ever happen.

It would be nice for this issue to be resolved, but I don't see that happening any time soon, if ever, unfortunately.

Maynard Morrissey said...

disappointing ending, but aside from that I totally enjoyed it

Fazeo said...

I actually was really excited to see this movie when it was first announced(I loved Grindhouse). Yet when the trailers for it came out I already could tell it was way too over the top in its political hamfistedness.

I loathe preachy films, no matter what side of the political spectrum they come from, but Machete's trailers actually offended me, and it takes a lot to do that. RR takes a very hot topic and basically makes everyone on one side of the debate out to be evil. That is just silly and doesn't sound like a fun film experience.

Your review spotlights exactly what I feared about the film and its insane message. I'm glad I skipped it.

venoms5 said...

Hi, Fazeo. I had read some other reviews that mentioned the politics inherent in the film, Fran's review was one of them and I was a bit surprised. I assumed it would just be a straight exploitation style movie, but it wasn't. In the current climate we're in right now such as the situation in Arizona and Obama on Spanish television telling them to "Punish our enemies" the level of shit shoveled in RR's flick was too much for me. Others may not be bothered by it, but it bothered me to the point where I disliked more about the film than liked it. Still, RR is good at shooting action scenes and the movie has some good ones.

venoms5 said...

@ Maynard: Almost forgot you, Maynard! I agree about the ending. I will likely see the next one if there is one, but doubt I'd pay for a ticket if it went theatrical.

Fazeo said...

I think the problem is people don't expect their exploitation films to be preachy and heavy handed, it just doesn't jive well with the genre.

Sure some exploitation films in the past have made political and cultural points, but usually not with a sledgehammer. Plus even if they do make points with some wit and tact it usually makes the audience roll their eyes anyway.

venoms5 said...


MACHETE is far more heavy handed in my view. Far more than it needs to be

I Like Horror Movies said...

Politics aside, nothing could get me any less excited to see MACHETE. I thought the Grindhouse films were a novelty at best, and this just looks like an overly long version of the trailer. Maybe someday V, but not today..

venoms5 said...

I pretty much hated GRINDHOUSE, personally, and expected it to bomb. Like many of QT's fan boys, many of them had never even seen any of those types of movies and couldn't be bothered with seeing them now. And those same "fans" couldn't save that big budget stinker. I firmly believe somebody with talent could have taken that type of material and made a success out of it as opposed to the infantile mess that got released to theaters.

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