For what it is, Machete is pretty much perfect. No, it’s not a perfect film, but it’s just about as good as it could be for what it is. What that means is that it sets modest goals for itself and either matches them or eclipses them at every turn. Granted, a lot of those goals aren’t all that lofty, nor do they need all that much competence to pull off, but the simple fact of the matter is that I had a lot of fun with Machete.
We open with a man named Machete (Danny Trejo) on a mission to save a woman from someone. It’s not all that well explained, but it doesn’t matter. He’s a police officer in Mexico, complete with tattoos, scars and an awesome mustache. He eventually rescues the woman, before being stabbed and burned alive, because this was a set-up by Rogelio Torrez (Steven Seagal). Oh, and his family is killed too. We pick up again three years later, when Machete has somehow managed to survive the fire, and is an illegal immigrant in the United States, working for less than $100 dollars a day performing menial tasks.
He gets seen on the streets by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), who wants him to assassinate the Senator of Texas, John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). Now, the Senator is up for re-election, and his only platform seems to be getting illegal immigrants out of America. Despite that, Machete initially declines the offer, but accepts after being offered $150,000 and being threatened. He’s to kill the Senator by 1:04PM the next day, while McLaughlin is making a speech.
This doesn’t go as planned though, because Machete is once again set-up. He gets shot, while someone else shoots the Senator (in the leg though, as it wasn’t a shot to kill). Machete manages to escape the onslaught of people trying to kill him, and we spend most of the rest of our time following him around trying to kill the people who set him up, as well as avoid being killed by the rest of America, now that everyone thinks he tried to kill a Senator who wants all Mexicans out of the country.
There are some more supporting characters, so I might as well list them and their role. Jessica Alba plays an Immigrations Officer who, despite being half Mexican herself, primarily targets those who crossed the border illegally. Michelle Rodriguez operates a taco stand and may or may not be the leader of an underground resistance. Cheech Marin plays a priest who doesn’t take his job all that seriously, while Lindsay Lohan plays some blonde girl who doesn’t really have much point to be here, but is anyway.
These are our players, and you’ve already been given the scenario. The only thing left is for someone to come out and say “Fight!” so that we can begin the all-out war. That’s how we end, just as you’d expect, although the sides that people begin the film on aren’t the same ones as they end on. That’s something I did enjoy about Machete, in that characters actually have their viewpoints altered by things that occur within the film, so that they don’t stay stagnate even when they should change. They’re not particularly deep characters, but at least they’re not just one-note personas.
As you’d likely expect, the action scenes are bloody and over-the-top. Considering Machete was first realized as a trailer attached to Grindhouse, it keeps with the tone and style b-movie exploitation flicks. Whenever someone is shot, it looks like a bottle of ketchup exploded on the wall behind them, actors give performances that would be terrible if that’s not what they were going for, while a ton of film grain and atrocious editing tops all this off. As with something like co-director Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, this is the type of film they wanted to make, and probably wouldn’t work if it followed the generic Hollywood blockbuster model.
Of all the performances, most of which are terrible, Danny Trejo proves that he should get far more lead roles. He plays the good guy in Machete, and despite not smiling or showing a lick of other emotion throughout, he manages to be an imposing presence on-screen, with a deadpan delivery making a lot of his dialogue sequences hilarious. For example, hearing him say “Machete don’t text” was just as funny as a line in most comedies, just because of who it comes from.
If there’s one thing that’s going to put some people off Machete, (apart from the large amounts of blood, gore, nudity, profanity, and all that good stuff), is how heavy handed it is about getting its political messages across. Almost every frame of Machete has something to do with immigration or class structures, and in an exploitation film, I got tired of it quickly. I wanted to sit down and watch a b-movie about a pretty much invincible killing machine who had a lot of fun action scenes. I got that, but hearing about immigration almost the entire time got tiring.
Regardless, I had a really good time with Machete. It was just too much pure fun to let its political ideas get in the way of how much fun it is. This is a b-movie, an exploitation film, and it’s a very good one. It has bad actors, terrible editing and over-the-top action scenes, but it’s for these reasons that it’s so enjoyable. If it wasn’t, then it would easily be a boring watch. But since it’s made with such skill, and all of this was intentional, but fun, I had a great time watching Machete. If the words before the credits don’t end up being a lie, I’m looking forward to more from Danny Trejo in this role.