In a summer filled with action movies that, at their best, are stupid fun and nothing more, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a movie like Machete, the chaotic, deliberately silly and ultra violent full length feature spawned from the terrific faux trailer attached between the two films in 2007’s overlooked Grindhouse. In all its unrestrained glory, this is a movie that has brains behind its ridiculousness. It may be because this year at the cinema has been particularly underwhelming, but Machete is, at this point, one of the best films of the year.
The movie begins in Mexico where a Mexican cop called Machete (Danny Trejo) is on his way to rescue a girl being held captive by Torrez (Steven Seagal), a druglord who has complete control over all law enforcement in the country. When Machete arrives, Torrez surprise attacks him and ends up killing his wife. Three years later, Machete is living in Texas as an illegal immigrant. Election time is coming up and Republican Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) is running under the promise of completely wiping out all illegal immigration and closing off the borders with a giant electrified fence. One day, Machete is approached by Booth (Jeff Fahey) and given $150,000 to kill McLaughlin. He agrees, but is quickly double crossed and finds himself on a mission of revenge and righteousness.
Machete is a cynical movie, sarcastically portraying right wing ideologies in as humorous and degrading a way as possible. With the central theme of immigration as its crux, the film takes a stand on the idea that we are fighting a fight that doesn’t need to be fought. While any economist that has studied the issue will agree, many conservatives will not and the film, quite effectively, shows the ignorance and hatred that seeps out of the most extreme. If they aren’t unfairly calling all immigrants “terrorists,” they show how the craziest of those on the right are greedy and power hungry.
Of course, there’s not really a message here as much as playful poking. There’s no hidden left wing agenda supporting immigration and no true hatred for those on the opposite side. The conservative characters come off as mere caricatures, not indicative of the majority of reasonable righties. That’s not what this film is about. It’s about recapturing the feeling of an old, gritty grindhouse picture and it succeeds.
Known for their sexually exploitative and graphically violent nature, grindhouse films are inherently bad, B-movies by their very nature. Machete mimics that experience, but does it purposely, fully aware of how silly it is. Limbs are hacked, throats are cut, people are shot and gratuitous nudity are all basic features. Where it lacks, however, is in its aesthetics. Recall the underappreciated Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez collaboration Grindhouse, which used visual tricks to capture the look of an actual grindhouse film, complete with missing frames and dust specks, intentionally aging its print. Outside of its opening credits, Machete fails to do the same. It captures the feeling of a grindhouse picture, but it overlooks the necessary visuals to accommodate it. But when you’re having this much fun and laughing at the endless amount of gory ingenuity, including a hilarious intestinal rappel, it’s hard to quibble too much.
I haven't enjoyed a goofy, madcap, knowingly absurd movie like this since Shoot ‘Em Up. I loved Machete and if the Bond-esque closing that promises the title character will return is true to its word, my enthusiasm is only just beginning.
Machete receives 4.5/5