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Overall Rating
3.89

Awesome: 18.42%
Worth A Look60.53%
Average: 15.79%
Pretty Bad: 2.63%
Total Crap: 2.63%

4 reviews, 14 user ratings


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Machete
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Blade Runner"
3 stars

If the super-gory Mexploitaton goof “Machete” does nothing else, it reconfirms Robert Rodriguez’s standing as Hollywood’s answer to the Energizer Bunny. Once again, he has given us an unabashedly lurid serving of cinematic pulp that is crammed with so much manna from B-movie heaven--oceans of blood and guts, a bevy of babes running the gamut from half-naked to fully, goofball humor, wild stunts and wilder plot twists--and has done so with enough energy to power several mid-sized suburbs. The trouble is that, unlike more successful ventures such as “Desperado” and “Sin City,” he hasn’t balanced out that reckless energy with equal amounts of inspiration and discipline and as a result, a film that starts off as exhilarating soon becomes exhausting and most viewers will likely emerge from it feeling like they have attended a buffet dinner where they took about four trips too many to the carving station.

Danny Trejo stars as Machete, a Federale whose attempt to single-handedly bring down notorious Mexican drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal. . .yes, Steven Seagal) ends with him being double-crossed, witnessing his wife’s murder and barely escaping with his own life. Three years later, he turns up in Austin as just another illegal alien trying to scrape by as a day laborer when he is approached by slick businessman Booth (Jeff Fahey) with an offer that he is not allowed to refuse--take a shot at state Senator John MacLaughlin (Robert De Niro. . .yes, Robert De Niro), a candidate who spends his days campaigning on a virulently anti-immigrant platform that includes the construction of an enormous border fence and his nights literally hunting down people trying to make the border cross with a self-appointed private militia led by Von (Don Johnson. . .yes, Don Johnson). As it turns out, the job is a frame designed to boost MacLaughlin’s campaign numbers but before Booth’s men can kill Machete, he escapes and tries to uncover proof of the conspiracy while dodging the seemingly endless number of hired killers out to get him and eventually leading a revolution of the oppressed that follow him into battle from behind the wheels of their low-riders and with garden tools in hand. Aiding Machete in his endeavors is Sartana (Jessica Alba), a ridiculously sexy immigration agent who is the first to twig that Machete is more than he seems to be, Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a ridiculously sexy taco truck proprietor who may also be a fabled underground revolutionary known as She and Padre (Cheech Marin), a not-especially-ridiculously sexy priest who may be a man of the cloth but who also wields a mean shotgun and a meaner joint.

As some of you may know, “Machete” was originally developed by Rodriguez as one of the fake trailers that popped up during his elaborate exploitation movie homage “Grindhouse” and when it proved to be one of the more generally admired portions of that underrated film, he decided to expand it into an actual film which he has co-directed with longtime editorial collaborator Ethan Maniquis. Although the film only visually replicates the look and feel of a beat-up print during the opening prologue, the crazy-go-nuts combination of sex, violence and unexpected political commentary does neatly evoke many of the wilder films produced by Roger Corman during the Seventies when he ran New World Pictures. The difference between those films and “Machete,” however, is that the old Corman films generally kept things short and sweet in order to pack in more screenings per day--rare was the time when one would find an exploitation film that ran longer than 90 minutes. Rodriguez, on the other hand, was apparently hell-bent on jamming every single idea that he had into the film and a story that could have easily clocked in at 80 minutes stretches out for an extra 25 minutes while still trying to maintain the breathless pace of the original trailer. The trouble is that while it is easy enough to sustain that kind of excitement for a couple of minutes that don’t necessarily have to tell a full story, the simple act of watching a film try to keep up that kind of pace for 105 minutes becomes wearying after a while and by the end, even the most hopped-up moviegoers will find themselves looking at their watches and wondering if it is ever going to end.

Another problem is that Rodriguez, who co-wrote the film with his cousin Alvaro, is so intent on filling his films with stuff that he no longer seems to have any ability to differentiate between the kind of stuff that works and the kind that only bogs down the story and adds to the bloated running time. There are plenty of neat things on display throughout the film--fight scenes in which everything from high heels to meat thermometers are deployed as weapons, an amusing reference to one of Robert De Niro’s most notable roles, the most memorable on-screen appearance by a large intestine since “Re-Animator” and the deserves-to-be-immortal-line “Machete don’t text.” On the other hand, there are far too many major bad guys for any one film to juggle, the initially inventive bloodshed soon devolves into an endlessly repetitive string of stabbings, slicings and shootings augmented with tons of CGI gore and there is a wildly unnecessary subplot involving Lindsay Lohan (yes. . .Lindsay Lohan) as a drugged out strumpet who enters the film stoned and half-naked and exits it blowing away bad guys while decked out in a nun’s habit in apparent tribute to Abel Ferrara’s vigilante cult classic “Ms 45.” This is not to say that the idea of Lindsay Lohan decked out with a pistol and a wimple isn’t potentially entertaining but when it is tossed in as one more extraneous element in a film already overloaded with such things, it just becomes a needless distraction.

All in all, the best thing about “Machete” is the strong central performance from Danny Trejo as Machete himself. A reliable supporting player over the years with a world-weary face and charisma to spare, he moves to center stage here and proves himself to be more than up to the task with a compelling turn that is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s work in the Sergio Leone westerns in the way that he smartly plays everything cool and close to the vest instead of following the compulsion to match all of the wackiness surrounding him. As for the other performances, they are as wide-ranging and eclectic as the cast itself. Michelle Rodriguez burns up the screen as much as Trejo does--this is easily the fiercest and most captivating thing that she has done since she first burst onto the screen a decade ago in “Girlfight.” As the other heroine, Jessica Alba is pretty terrible by most conventional standards but is clearly having so much fun that it is impossible to come down too hard on her and her big inspirational speech (“We didn’t cross the border--the border crossed us!”) is a hoot. As for the guys, Robert De Niro pretty much camps it up throughout and while it does inspire some laughs here and there, it also crosses the border into the cartoonish while once-hot actors Jeff Fahey and Don Johnson turn in strong supporting turns that match the tone of the proceedings without going overboard. Then there is Steven Seagal in perhaps the least likely casting choice since John Wayne took on the role of Genghis Kahn. Yes, he is perhaps the least convincing Mexican drug lord in film history and yes, his accent, when he remembers to deploy it, is pretty much straight out of a Speedy Gonzales cartoon. He is a joke but for once, the usually self-serious Seagal seems to be in on the joke and tears into the role with such glee that his every scene is a hoot and his final scene here is easily his most memorable on-screen moment since his immortal final scene in “Executive Decision.”

Don’t get me wrong, “Machete” has a lot of Good Parts and if it sounds like your kind of movie, there is a good chance that you might enjoy. The trouble is that there are also a lot of Not-So-Good Parts as well and after a while, they all begin to blur together into one. This is the kind of movie where if they decide to do a director’s cut, they should drop 20 minutes instead of adding them. I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy certain aspects of it and Lord knows I have seen plenty of recent movies that were far worse. However, I can’t say that I will be putting the two sequels announced in the end credits on my “must-see” list and I can’t even say for sure that I would ever actually sit through it again in its entirety in my lifetime. Okay, I would if I had a chance to see it in Arizona.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=19656&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/04/10 00:48:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 67th Venice International Film Festival For more in the 67th Venice International Film Festival series, click here.
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User Comments

8/27/12 David Pollastrini Sexy and violent. Great film. 4 stars
4/04/12 moose rapper Action-packed and funny as hell! 5 stars
11/10/11 matthew thompson dalldorf THE action film of '10! Seagal makes a great villain! 5 stars
1/24/11 bill norris if you cant hang with over the top "everything" then this isnt your type of flic. 5 stars
10/17/10 Jeff Wilder One of the better recent exploitation movies. Way better than the ridiculous Expendables. 4 stars
9/10/10 Ace-of-Stars Finally! Ugly Guy is Sexy Lead Man! + So wild & over-the-top, couldn't help but 5-star it! 5 stars
9/09/10 GrandMaster T VIOLENT,SHALL AND TASTELESS- sounds great! 4 stars
9/09/10 PAUL SHORTT VIOLENT, SHALLOW AND TASTELESS 2 stars
9/08/10 KingNeutron Seagal's death scene was awesome - nice to see Trejo in a Lead role 4 stars
9/08/10 Mister Way beyond awesome! 5 stars
9/07/10 Sully Fun popcorn/drive-in flick check it out. Bring your own tacos 5 stars
9/06/10 Karamashi Atrocious! It's own special kind of awful. 1 stars
9/06/10 Billie Blackbrain A cut abive the rest. 5 stars
9/05/10 mr.mike Kicks major ass 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  03-Sep-2010 (R)
  DVD: 04-Jan-2011

UK
  N/A

Australia
  03-Sep-2010
  DVD: 04-Jan-2011




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