Should I Watch..? 'Machete' (2010)
What's the big deal?
Machete is an action film released in 2010 and is based upon the character of the same name that featured in the Spy Kids franchise. However, this is far from the kiddie-friendly origins of the role played by Danny Trejo - the film sees Machete caught up in a political conspiracy and forced to turn the tables on those trying to frame him. The film also stars Steven Seagal, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Michelle Rodriguz and Cheech Marin and was written and directed by Robert Rodriguez. The idea originally formed as a result of a fake trailer produced by Rodriguez for the B-movie tribute double feature Grindhouse together with long-time collaborator Quentin Tarantino. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a deliberately cult film, the film only made $44 million worldwide but there was enough interest in a sequel - Machete Kills - released in 2013. Critical reaction was broadly positive with most critics agreeing that the film's over-the-top levels of violence and exploitative nature was the exact reason for the film.
What's it about?
Isador "Machete" Cortez is a former Mexican Federale who finds himself falling on hard times after being sold out by his Chief to drug lord Rogelio Torrez three years earlier. Scrapping a living in Texas, Machete is contacted by local businessman Michael Booth who has a job for him. Anti-immigration Texas Senator John McLaughlin is deporting hundreds of migrants out of the state and Booth offers Machete $150'000 to assassinate him at a political rally. Forced into accepting the contract, Machete quickly discovers that he has been set-up after another sniper shots him in the shoulder and wounds McLaughlin as part of a 'false flag' operation.
Realising that he has been framed as a rogue Mexican outlaw and unwittingly drawing sympathy for McLaughlin's cause, Machete recovers from his wounds and seeks the assistance of US Immigration Agent Sartana Rivera and Luz, the leader of an underground group called the Network who help migrants. But as things quickly spiral out of control, it falls to Machete to bring about justice in his own inimitable style...
Robert De Niro
Senator John McLaughlin
Agent Sartana Rivera
Padre Benicio Del Toro
Robert Rodriguez & Ethan Maniquis
Robert & Álvaro Rodriguez
Release Date (UK)
26th November, 2010
Action, Crime, Thriller
Worst Supporting Actress (Alba)
What's to like?
Rodriguez is a curious director whose films seem to consist of ultra-violent action films, more family-friendly efforts and nothing else in between. Suffice to say, Machete falls into the former category - fuelled by the same cartoony levels of bloodshed fans will recall from films like Desperado, the film offers audiences an unrepentant roller-coaster ride reminiscent of spaghetti westerns and parodies of such. It's a little disconcerting to see a film that aspires to be a B-movie but Rodriguez is a master of making low budgets stretch as far as they can go. This is B-movie material with the look of a major blockbuster.
Trejo, long associated with films of this type, is born to play the role and his craggy features and brutish manner have never been utilised better than here but he has plenty of support. Thankfully, the cast understand that Rodriguez is not making a serious film here and everyone chips in with their tongues firmly in cheek. It isn't the greatest film but it doesn't try to be. Machete knows that it is patently ridiculous and so throws as many crazy ideas into the mix as possible, almost without considering whether it's going to work or not. It's a no-nonsense action film and if that's all you're looking for then this will more than do the trick.
- After sharing his concept with Danny Trejo, Robert Rodriguez was bombarded with calls from Trejo trying to convince him to go ahead with the project. When asked why he didn't just text him, Trejo replied "Machete don't text." Rodriguez liked the line so much, he included it in the film.
- This was Seagal's first theatrically released film since 2002's Half Past Dead. It also marked the first time in his career he played an outright villain.
- Grindhouse featured a number of fake trailers for films, some of which either became films in their own right or are being developed. Hobo With A Shotgun stars Rutger Hauer as a tramp who becomes a vigilante while Eli Roth has confirmed that he is working on a possible feature called Thanksgiving.
What's not to like?
For anyone who maybe isn't used to this style of film, Machete will wash over them like a tidal surge. The film is intentionally trashy and designed to be reminiscent of B-movie classics like Satan's Sadists and Ilsa, She-Wolf Of The SS. This is low budget, disposable and ultimately forgettable fare which will put a smile on your face whilst you're watching but fades from the memory not long after. As such, it's largely redundant to point out how bad Alba is as she is far too baby-faced to be the bad-ass the role demands. She reminded me of Katie Holmes in Batman Begins, an actress too young or nice to be played someone with a supposedly hard exterior.
The question I have is who exactly is this film for. These days, action films often have an aesthetic that makes watching them much easier - The Matrix has its cast dodging bullets and the often-imitated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has scenes of sheer beauty with martial-arts scenes floating through forest and ground-breaking wire-work. Machete, by contrast, feels lumpen and almost dumb, dragging its bloodied knuckles through the dust like a Mexican caveman.
Should I watch it?
Machete won't be to everybody's tastes but as a piece of throwaway trash cinema, you'll struggle to find better. Loaded with hammy performances, bloody action sequences and a plot so bizarre that you kinda give up on it halfway through, the film has everything a connoisseur of B-movies could possibly want. There is no room for sophistication here - Machete does exactly what it says it will do and it blows you away with its sheer, unbridled sense of fun.
Great For: fans of Rodriguez' style of film-making, action lovers, macabre senses of humour
Not So Great For: serious viewers, humourless souls
What else should I watch?
While Machete might well be the most Rodriguez film in Rodriguez' career, it certainly isn't his best. For me, Desperado is the perfect blend of violence, desert heat and off-beat humour with Antonio Banderas in sublime form as El Mariachi and Salma Hayek never better as sultry love interest Carolina. The follow-up Once Upon A Time In Mexico was a bit too bloated for my tastes with too many characters, a confusing plot and Johnny Depp's scene-stealing CIA agent not quite fitting in.
Hollywood isn't afraid to put out the odd action film or so, ever since Die Hard rewrote the rules back in 1988. Nowadays, there is a bit more thought and imagination put into such projects and they deliver a film that is much more watchable than a straight-forward good-vs-bad shooter like this film. However, it does appear that old-school isn't quite going away just yet. Led by Sylvester Stallone's revivalist action The Expendables, audiences appear to have had enough of kung-fu on the end of wires floating above a set. Does this mean I'm now old-school?
© 2018 Benjamin Cox