Monday, September 6, 2010

"Machete" (2010)

Remember how "Grindhouse," the 2007 exploitation cinema epic from directing team Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, had those fake trailers in between the two features? Well, something had to come from those trailers, and here it is from Rodriguez: an expanded feature length version of his trailer and arguably the best of the trailers, "Machete." As the trailer was so pitch-perfect, Rodriguez certainly knows his way around the genre of trashy 70s action flicks. The movie works like a Hispanic blaxploitation movie, and while outlandishly violent, gory and preposterous it is also loudly political and timely which actually become the movie's most tongue-in-cheek moments. So now with the full movie to accompany the trailer, it boils down to whether or not less is more in the case of this battered and scarred federale.

Danny Trejo plays the lead, and at the age of 66 he carries the part effortlessly as a badass just as he did in the trailer. With a scar covered face, a tattooed body and long haggard hair, Trejo never cracks one smile and says lines like, "Machete don't text" with such flat, assured delivery that he's funny without even trying. With an all-business, blade-slashing attitude, he gets the women and mows down the bad guys with astonishing reserve. As Machete, he gets set up to assassinate a racist Texas politician (Robert De Niro) who wants to stop illegal immigration by implementing a large electric fence on the Mexican border. Arriving at the job, he gets double-crossed and left for dead (all described in the original trailer) leaving him to fend for his life and take revenge on those who hurt him. Revolucion is in the air, blades get sharpened and the blood begins to spew.

The movie's mood is perpetually pissed off, and while this allows the action and dialogue to seethe with rage it also detracts from its ability to have as much fun as it perhaps could have. A lot of bits are funny in their intentional B-movie flair, but many of the characters' one-liners actually fall flat on their face. And in its openly deadpan mockery of exploitation schlock full of gratuitous levels of sleaze, it tips too far into the self-serious realm, and for a few instances it becomes exactly the type of schlock it initially wants to satirize. Rodriguez and his co-director Ethan Maniquis have a love for the genre but too often forget to wink more knowingly at their audience.

There are some absurdly brutal action sequences including the rousing opening along with one involving a person's intestines and medical utensils and another boasting the creative use of gardening tools such as a weed whacker. A lot of this action, however, is front-loaded and wears out its shock value far too early in the rather lengthy running time. It begins to lose momentum by the end when the chaos should have been ramping up the most. A lot of it turns into waiting for certain bits from the fake trailer, which do make their way into the real thing, and they end up being some of the very best parts. Some of the mid-section turns to unnecessary plodding, which goes to answering the initial question of whether or not less is more.

From Steven Seagal who has the appearance of a lumpy piece of meat to Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez who are equally obliged to just look hot, the ensemble cast is great and everyone appears to be having a blast. Robert De Niro and Jeff Fahey are a hoot, and best of all is Lindsay Lohan with the way her character is introduced considering her recent antics in the tabloid spotlight. She spends the majority of her time completely naked and eventually dons a nun outfit toting around a machine gun. While "Machete" may not stand among the likes of Rodriguez's "Planet Terror," it's worth seeing if not just for Lohan's outrageous final screen performance before her time in jail.

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