Danny Trejo has been playing Machete for over fifteen years. Introduced in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado as Navajas (“jack knife” according to my translation), Machete has cropped up throughout the Rodriguez universe as “Uncle Machete” in the Spy Kids films and as “Cuchillo” (Spanish for knives) in the Rodriguez produced Predators. Of course it was the mock trailer for Machete featured in Grindhouse that made movie nerds piss themselves with glee over such a ridonkulous (that’s right, redonkulous) movie. And Rodriguez decided to serve it right up with a full length treatment.
While Machete is on the job as a Mexican police officer, his wife and daughter are killed by notorious drug cartel, Torrez (Steven Seagal). In the wake of the murders, Machete finds himself hired to kill a right-wing Senator (Robert De Niro) pushing for an electric fence to separate the U.S./Mexican border. Machete’s double crossed and to set things straight, he’ll have to perform a few decapitations along the way.
When I first saw Sin City, I walked away from the cinema thinking, “I’m really glad I was treated like an adult for once.” Rodriguez’s penchant for blood, broads, bullets, and f-bombs is still in full force, creating vivid nightmares for any squeamish supporter of film censorship. I refuse to spoil the many ways Machete handles those who “have just fucked with the wrong Mexican!” but I suspect Machete’s victims would overwhelm the blood banks at the Red Cross.
But all of the violence is so over the top that you’re compelled to laugh: When Machete gets creative with a man’s intestines, it’s comic gold (covered in entrails). The film knows what it is, with self-aware commentary that properly informs the audience, “We know this is insane, so laugh with us.” This is in clear contrast to that other action film released recently, The Expendables, which refused to acknowledge its outlandish violence.
The only error made by Rodriguez and crew is in the way the film limps to the finish line in the last half. It is still violent with solid nuggets of comedy throughout, but the confetti of killings in the first half almost vanishes as things like “story” get in the way. Machete finds an ally in ICE agent Sartana (Jessica Alba), but the development of this dynamic wastes time that could otherwise be spent on shots of Machete as a badass or increased creative blood-letting. The film is at its best when Trejo is killing things, not when he’s gathering evidence or eating breakfast with Jessica Alba. There are also quite a few scene transitions with the abruptness of riding with someone who is just learning how use a stick shift.
But these issues ultimately do not impede the film’s success at delivering an insanely violent, hilarious piece of entertainment. We should thank God there is someone who makes films cheap enough that they can have R ratings (poison for making your money back with 100+ million dollar productions), but don’t skimp on the wit or special effects. Machete isn’t as good as Planet Terror, Rodriguez’s half of Grindhouse, but is like Terror’s little brother, delivering the same degree off wtf-ness with areas for maturity.
The full length film of Machete was never going to be able to surpass the concentrated amount of kick ass in the trailer that was its genesis – but it tries with satisfying results.
Keep an eye out for other Rodriguez alums (actors or characters): Devin Aoki (Sin City‘s “deadly little Miho”) and Planet Terror characters, the babysitter twins and Cherry Darling (though I don’t recall seeing Rose McGowen anywhere…)