By: Addison Wylie
Ever since the release of Grindhouse in 2007, faithful fans to both Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have been demanding more throwback content. People have been wanting the complete double feature to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray and they refuse to conform and buy the features separately. Another demand by the fanbase has been to see complete features inspired by the “fake trailers” which were featured before Planet Terror and Death Proof. Planet Terror director, Robert Rodriguez has finally given in and now has directed, along with co-director Ethan Maniquis, a spin-off of his fake trailer featured in the violent double feature. Machete is yet another love letter to the exploitation genre made famous in the 70’s and this film sure delivers. It’s bloody, gory, exciting, and lots of fun. However, there are a few distracting flaws that keep Machete from being a perfect movie.
In a time where elections are taking place, Senator John McLaughlin, played by Robert De Niro, is focused on getting re-elected. In order to do so, he promises that he will solve the immigration problem by building a giant electric fence that outlines the border. The White Texans are happy but the Mexican immigrants are not. It’s at this time where ex-Federale, Machete, played by Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo, is hired by slimy businessman Michael Booth, played by Jeff Fahey, to assassinate the Senator. After giving Machete a hefty sum of cash, Machete picks up his beloved blade and gun and hides up on a rooftop while the Senator is delivering a speech. Just when Machete is about to shoot, another assassin, hired by Booth, wounds Machete, shoots the Senator in the leg, and thus, frames Machete for the assassination attempt. Machete is now a wanted fugitive and must get to the bottom of this case as well as get revenge with the help of his friend Luz, played by Michelle Rodriguez, and his brother Padre, played by Cheech Marin.
One of the flaws I instantly have with Machete is that the film’s style is confusing at times. It’s as if it doesn’t know if it wants to be a direct throwback to the half baked genre or be its own separate film. The movie starts off with hilarious and exciting action sequences. The audience gets to see Machete’s backstory as well as what motivates him. These first few scenes are filled to the brim with excessive amounts of blood from exploding limbs and heads. The film’s picture itself also has scratches and the scenes quickly skip from one shot to another making the overall initial feel of the film authentic. It’s never serious but the actors are playing it straight; everyone is on the same page here. After the creative and polarizing credit sequence, the scratches are gone, the quick edits are far and few between, and the movie doesn’t feel like a film you’d find in a Grindhouse theatre. This was particularly distracting due to the fact that I thought all those creative and neat artifacts during the first few scenes were very affective and raised the bar a lot. Rodriguez is very clever with using and emulating these “bad” techniques; as seen in Planet Terror where he utilized these characteristics. Once he removes those schlocky tendencies, the film switches into another gear; one that’s not quite as effective or fun as the previous mood. It’s a similar problem I had with Tarantino’s Death Proof. In Death Proof, it was as if Tarantino was trying to define his own version of a Grindhouse movie and the result was very hit-and-miss with a lot of audiences. With Machete, it feels as if Rodriguez and Maniquis are trying to have their cake and eat it too; trying to juggle two tones during the duration of this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I did have a lot of fun watching Machete but perhaps if the film was consistent and stuck with one base mood, the film would’ve felt a lot more creative.
On that note, I also had a problem with how heavy-handed the immigration messages are in this film. Written passionately by Robert Rodriguez and Álvaro Rodríguez, it’s as if the two screenwriters have a tough time transitioning from a joyous action scene to dialogue driven scenes where characters talk about how everyone has equal rights. I know what the duo was trying to emulate though. In older blaxploitation films, those films would be very message heavy. It’s almost as if those filmmakers wouldn’t care about how to tell its story just as long as they can bluntly tell their viewers what to do and what not to do. That method of filmmaking might’ve worked decades ago but, in modern day, those writing techniques, whether the film is self knowing or not, feels very clunky and uninvolving. There are ways that the writing duo could’ve been more subtle with their messages. Perhaps using more symbolism like how it was executed in the most recent District 9. I didn’t like how the film took place in modern day as well. Whenever there was a reference to a cell phone or an event that took place within the past five years, the film would fall out of its persona due to the fact that the characters and the film were acting like older, schlocky Grindhouse cliches. These were giant distracting moments that took me directly out of the movie.
Now, it may seem like I didn’t care for the movie; stating all my cons first. However, that’s certainly false. Because of the performances and Rodriguez and Maniquis ability to film action in great detail, the film is very entertaining and I ended up basking in the absurdity of it all. Trejo is very good and very charismatic as Machete. His line deliveries are perfect. When he’s spouting off action line cliches we’ve heard before, they feel brand new coming out of Trejo’s mouth. The villains were lively as well. I particularly liked Jeff Fahey’s performance. He was able to make me laugh and despise him at the same time. Everytime he snarled out an order or lost his mind with a cohort, my eyes and ears were glued to that character. Don Johnson and Steven Seagal also do a good job of being despicable but Segal does a solid job with adding comic relief. Michelle Rodriguez is incredibly charming as Luz and is able to hold her own bad-ass character when starring alongside Trejo. It’s a character that allows Michelle Rodriguez to follow guidelines given by the directors but there’s leeway that allows her to add a bit of her own spin to the heroine character cliche. The performances play along side well with the action. The directors, along with cinematographer Jimmy Lindsey, have had a lot of experience with shooting and editing this type of action and they excel here as well. The action scenes are exciting and inventive and the characters are always maintaining their charismatic attitudes no matter who they’re fighting and what they’re fighting with. You’ll no doubly walk away from the theatre in awe of how the fight choreography was performed and how innovative Machete is when he’s facing up to 10 guys at once.
I might’ve had a few qualms with Machete but I also ended up having a lot of fun with it. The film is well paced, for the most part, making the film a fun ride. The only times the film starts to slow down is when the film’s message gets in the way of the story and the action. But, I do have faith that the directorial duo can fix these mistakes in the future . That said, the performances are fulfilling as well as the fight sequences and I would happily welcome a Machete franchise into my movie watching life.