(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: In the finest traditions of cheap, grindhouse exploitation films comes this story of a big, ugly Mexican ex-Federale who gets mixed up in Texas anti-immigration politics. Before long there are half-naked women firing machine guns. That is just the kind of film it is. It is hard to say this is a good film, but it is a bad film done very well. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Finishing up the summer season we have gotten two different films intended to remind us of drive-in B-movies from the late 1960s and early 1970s. PIRANHA 3D resurrects the post-JAWS nature horror film with an attack of super-fish with razor-sharp teeth. MACHETE brings back the low-budget action-hero film. These are both films trying to look like fugitives from the 1970s drive-in screen. But each tries a different approach informed by the passing years. While the prototypes of PIRANHA 3D might have had a scene or two of quick nudity and might look away from the real visceral horror of the fish attacks, PIRANHA 3D revels in nearly wall-to-wall nudity and glories in showing pieces of people including sexual organs floating in the water and people cut in half by taut cables. Its goal is not horror but revulsion. With the exception of having more and better-known actors, and perhaps a more complex plot, MACHETE is much more true to its exploitation origins.

Machete (played by Danny Trejo) is a human mountain of ugly muscle. He had been a Mexican Federale three years earlier. Machete screwed up very badly and paid the price, losing his wife and child. And now he is trying to forget the past. He is an illegal immigrant working day labor in Texas. Machete is hired for more money than he can turn down for a contract to assassinate an aspiring state senator. The targeted victim, John McLaughlin (overplayed by Robert DeNiro), is a man with a crusade against all illegal immigrants. Whether Machete would have fulfilled is agreement is in question, but Machete finds that he was the real intended prey. Not too surprisingly this gets Machete into a fight for his life against reactionary politicians, hired hit men, and a drug lord from south of the border. It turns into a huge cartoonish battle between immigrants and the corrupt power structure.

Compared to Danny Trejo, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Bronson, and Bogart are all pretty boys. Trejo's face is a contour map with mountains and canyons. In its most common state that face is recently beaten and bruised. Part of the pleasure of Machete is seeing familiar actors in support roles. Of course there is Robert DeNiro, but there is also Steven Seagal (who succeeded in beating up a lot of bad guys is his time, but who is losing at fighting his own paunch), Jeff Fahey, and Don Johnson. The film is co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and freshman Ethan Maniquis, with the former co-authoring the script. The film itself started as a joke. In the film GRINDHOUSE there were a series of phony coming attractions. One was for a supposed action film, MACHETE. As a coming attraction, it apparently looked good enough that they made the film just as it appeared in the trailer. It actually was more fun than either half of GRINDHOUSE. To enhance the cheap grindhouse feel, the opening credits were distressed like a film that had been abused and mishandled by dozens of half-hearted projectionists.

This sort of martial arts film has always had a nostalgic feel harking to a time and place before bad guys had good guns. I am sure Machete is good with a machete at close range. But at twenty yards, I would still bet that a guy with an assault rifle could easily out-match him. It is hard to call this a good film. But it is tough not to have a good time (your taste and politics allowing). I rated MACHETE a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10 and went out for soft tacos immediately after seeing the film.

Of interest is this quote from the IMDB about Trejo's background

A child drug addict and criminal, Danny Trejo was in and out of jail for eleven years. While serving time in San Quentin, he won the lightweight and welterweight boxing titles. Imprisoned for armed robbery and drug offenses, he successfully completed a 12-step rehabilitation program that changed his life. While speaking at a Cocaine Anonymous meeting in 1985, Trejo met a young man who later called him for support. Trejo went to meet him at what turned out to be the set of RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985). Trejo was immediately offered a role as a convict extra, probably because of his tough tattooed appearance. Also on the set was a screenwriter who did time with Trejo in San Quentin. Remembering Trejo's boxing skills, the screenwriter offered him $350 per day to train the actors for a boxing match. Director Andrey Konchalovskiy saw Trejo training Eric Roberts and immediately offered him a featured role as Roberts' opponent in the film. Trejo has subsequently appeared in many other films, usually as a tough criminal or villain.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper