2 out of 4 stars
In a manner very similar to his close friend and frequent collaborator Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez has established himself as a crack filmmaker steeped heavily in over-the-top style with an unapologetic love of campy ’70s B-films. Whether it be Westerns (“Desperado”), graphic novels (“Sin City”), family adventures (the “Spy Kids” franchise) or horror (“From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Planet Terror”), Rodriguez goes heavy on the kitsch with tongue always planted firmly in cheek. All of his movies are cheesy, but always in a good way — until now.
The title character in “Machete” (Danny Trejo) has been around for a while. He had bit parts in the “Spy Kids” flicks and got his own fake trailer in the “Grindhouse” double feature. He’s a Latin variation of the blaxploitation anti-hero with some of Clint Eastwood’s silent, steely, Spaghetti Western resolve tossed in. He makes for a superb action/adventure leading man and, based on the end credits, is a character Rodriguez plans on revisiting multiple times.
As with everything he’s done (save for “Spy Kids”), Rodriguez drenches the movie in profanity, blood, graphic gore, exploitative nudity and lurid sex. Before the opening credits even start, Machete decapitates about a dozen people with his trusty broadsword and tosses a naked woman over his shoulder. The carnage never lets up and the body count eventually hits the triple digits. If you want wall-to-wall action and tawdry titillation, “Machete” will more than fit the bill.
After nearly three decades doing often forgettable support work, Trejo makes the most of his first starring role by playing it straight, not getting too cocky and letting his co-stars do the heavy lifting. Rodriguez has always been spot-on with casting and he’s at the top of his game here. Like Tarantino, he calls on old pros (Jeff Fahey, Robert de Niro, Steven Seagal and Don Johnson) to play the antagonists and for the most part, all of them deliver the goods. Longtime Rodriguez crony Cheech Marin also shines as Machete’s resourceful priest brother.
Known more for their ability to provide eye candy and less for their collective thespian skills, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan are all given roles that don’t tax their modest talent levels. Of the three, Rodriguez (as a Mexican Sojourner Truth) fares the best and unlike the other two, she manages to keep her clothes on most of the time.
It’s time now for the bad news.
Instead of the usual action/adventure plot involving drugs, guns, money or sex, Rodriguez and his cousin Alvaro have written a movie about the topical and ultra-touchy subject of illegal immigration.
Not even close to being comedic, satirical or well-informed, this portion of the screenplay is top heavy with the kind of preachy sentimentality and mawkish self-reverence usually reserved for dramas such as “Milk,” “Silkwood,” “Three Mile Island” and “Norma Rae.” It is political grandstanding at its most shamefully pandering and force-fitting such a serious plot into a movie like “Machete” is like making a teen sex comedy about abstinence.
The constant shift in tone between action frivolity and moral indignation is both jarring and cheap. Audiences — particularly action audiences — don’t want to pay good money to hear a sermon, even if they agree with the filmmaker’s perspective.
It wouldn’t be going out on a limb by saying that most natural-born or naturalized U.S. citizens will not at all agree with Rodriguez’s position regarding illegal immigration. It also wouldn’t be taking a chance by stating that “Machete” will get your blood racing on multiple levels and maybe one of them not in a way you had originally wanted. (Fox)