In Machete, blades flash and body parts are sliced. Heads roll. And hands, torsos, legs and other limbs. Robert De Niro wears a cowboy hat and guns down illegal immigrants with a hunting rifle. Steven Seagal is a Mexican drug lord with samurai sword skills. Jessica Alba showers; Lindsay Lohan skinny dips; Cheech Marin wears a clerical collar as a priest with an ear for profanity. And Danny Trejo, whose 10-miles-of-bad-road face and tattooed body have made him one of the screen’s most recognizable bad guys, plays the hero, a lawman named Machete.
The Robert Rodriguez movie that began life as a howled-for trailer in the exploitation spoof Grindhouse is a cutting-edge spoof of ’70s B-movies. It’s a Hispanic-American version of a blaxploitation film of the Super Fly school, with bloody action, titillating nudity and a catch-phrase riddled script.And like those ’70s movies it borrows from, there’s a blast of tongue-in-cheek politics built around a “They messed with the WRONG Mexican” message.
We meet Machete as he crashes in on drug dealers south of the border, getting his partner, wife and child killed in the process. The bad guy Torrez (Seagal) has too much power, too much reach. Machete barely escapes with his life. Years later, he’s in Texas, struggling to survive as an illegal immigrant despite the help of “The Network,” an underground railroad for illegals run by Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) out of her taco truck. They’re all on the lookout for the Latina immigration cop (Jessica Alba) who is quick to deport her “brothers and sisters.”
A well-heeled politico named Booth (Jeff Fahey) hires Machete to assassinate an immigrant-bashing state senator (De Niro). Soon the cops, immigration and Booth’s henchman (led by Shea Whigham) are after the migrant worker they don’t realize is a slicing-and-shooting killing machine. Our hero is on the run from a vast conspiracy that wants tougher immigration laws, higher fences and vigilantes (Don Johnson) who have declared open season on Mexicans.
Trejo, now well into his 60s, is only so-so in his first leading role, never really comfortable center stage. Rodriguez surrounds him with actors in his thrall – which helps. Fahey, Seagal, De Niro and Johnson take things way over the top, and the ladies all melt in his presence. It’s all a gory goof, as veteran horror movie makeup guy and actor Tom Savini turns up as a hitman (1-800-HITMAN), a John Woo-style shootout and torture scene takes place in a church, and Lohan dons a nun’s habit. The jokes hamper the “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us” pro-immigration message, but if the film makes people think twice about “messing with the wrong Mexican,” no doubt the cast and crew will call that a win.
Cast: Danny Trejo, Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan.
Directors: Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez.
Screenwriters: Robert Rodriguez, Alvaro Rodriguez.
Producers: Elizabeth Avellan, Aaron Kaufman, Iliana Nikolic, Robert Rodriguez, Rick Schwartz, Quentin Tarantino.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 105 minutes. Strong bloody violence, language, some sexual content, nudity.