Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Machete

Machete is a Mexican ex-Federale trying to make a living in Texas as an immigrant worker when he's hired by a powerful businessman to assassinate the Senator for $150,000. He reluctantly accepts, but finds he's been double crossed in an attempt to boost the Senator's ratings before an election. Escaping the men who are hunting him down, he finds allies in a immigration officer, a revolutionary taco vendor and his priest brother. He needs to kill the men who set him up before they kill him, but an enemy from Machete's past threatens to stop Machete in his tracks...

3 years ago, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino gave the world Grindhouse, a double feature paying homage to the exploitation films shown in 'grindhouse cinemas' in 1960's/1970's America. Rodriguez's contributions were one of the main features (Planet Terror, a really enjoyable standalone film) and a fake trailer for a Mexploitation film about a vigilante called Machete. 3 years on, Machete has made it to the big screens in his own film, appropriately enough named Machete. The trailer promised so much, an entertaining homage to the ridiculous, with a seemingly illogical plot to boot. Luckily, Rodriguez has delivered on that promise with this, and has made a second mock-exploitation film that easily rivals, and even at times outguns his previous effort.

Machete is, throughout, ridiculous, there's no getting around that. It's a ludicrous premise, it's completely over the top, the violence verges on cartoonish and the dialogue sounds like it was written by Tommy Wiseau. Altogether, it's an outlandish film, but that's exactly what makes this so enjoyable. Not once in the entire 100 minutes does it take itself too seriously. For the second time in a month, I feel the need to compare a film to The Expendables, as they're both star-studded action films. Whereas The Expendables tries hard to be credible and fails drastically, Machete knows it's outrageously excessive and goes with it 110%, cramming in the cameos with gusto and providing scenes ranging from over the top action to soft pornography. It's funny, entertaining, and a very knowing homage to the ridiculousness of exploitation films.

The cast is damn impressive. Danny Trejo, Machete himself, is just too cool for school, an all-out action hero. Steven Seagal is actually quite good, but because he's so bad; it fits with the film's aesthetic. He dons a fake Mexican accent and plays the 'overall' bad guy, not doing much apart from starring at the start and the end, and only briefly appears in the middle on a computer screen. Easy. Jeff Fahey is damn good as the corrupt businessman/spin doctor, he seems genuinely cold-blooded and calculating at times. Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame is, surprisingly, brilliantly evil as a border patrol vigilante without any remorse or good judgment. Michelle Rodriguez is fiesty as Luz/Shé, a taco vendor/revolutionary. Jessica Alba gets to deliver some fantastically stupid lines as the immigration officer who turns good and helps Machete and she kicks a fair bit of ass too. Lindsay Lohan is pretty bland as a Daddy's girl gone bad who then feels the need to seek revenge dressed in a nun outfit. Surprisingly, or maybe not, Robert De Niro is the only person in the entire cast who delivers a 'bad even for a film that wants to look bad' performance. Throughout the film, he's either lost at sea with the concept of going OTT, or he goes way too OTT and ends up gurning his way through certain scenes and looking stupid. It seems as if he just wasn't a good fit for this film.

The template Rodriguez established in Planet Terror and the Machete trailer 3 years ago is carried over here; dodgy sound recording, roughed-up film quality, cheesy dialogue, cartoonish violence, extremely loose plot points. All the scenes from that now-famous Machete trailer are used in the film and are now tied together with a plot, explaining how Machete can go from riding a motorbike with a machine gun attached one minute to making out with 2 naked women in a pool the next. Even though, at times, the story can be verge on overcomplicated and convoluted, it always reels itself back in to its own sense of warped reality and remembers it needs to be silly. It certainly verges on becoming serious with a quasi-political message about illegal immigrants and extremist views on immigration, but it always grounds itself with a healthy dose of violence and good bad acting.

Overall, it's a damn enjoyable 100 minutes with plenty to keep you occupied. Gore, boobs, violence, hammy acting, cheesy dialogue, bravado and plenty of machismo. Robert Rodriguez has become pretty good at recreating the look and feel of an exploitation film and seems to have recognised the right kind of balance between all its elements, something Tarantino missed by a country mile. It would seem 2010 was the year of the star-packed OTT action film, as seen in The Expendables and Red, and it would seem that these films have only gotten better as the year's gone on. It's taken us until November to get our hands on Machete, but my God it was worth it. I hated The Expendables, and I didn't mind Red, but I loved this. Thank God they fucked with the wrong Mexican.

Rating: ***1/2