“Machete,” writer-director Robert Rodriguez's grindhouse homage about an ex-federale with a fondness for cutlery, is a bloody, violent polemic about the injustice of U.S. immigration policy, but it’s also a gut-ripping good time—if you’re into that kind of thing.
The film stars Danny Trejo—“that guy” from dozens upon dozens of films—in the title role, a former Mexican cop recruited to assassinate fervent anti-immigration Texas state senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). But the job turns out to be a set-up, an effort to prove McLaughlin’s point about the dangers of all those Mexicans storming our borders.
It would take another 500 words to explain the plot in all its ridiculous details: Michelle Rodriguez runs a taco truck as a front for her work running a modern-day Underground Railroad called The Network; Jessica Alba is an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent trying to break up The Network; Lindsay Lohan as a drugged out web-star wannabe who shoots a racy 3-way video with our hero and her mom; Cheech Marin plays a pump-action shotgun-weidling priest… and on and on and on.
As befits the genre, the violence is splattered to the point of absudrity. Yes, the sight of a sword slicing through a door into a thug’s mouth may give you a start, but only the most squeamish would be put off by the “blood,” there’s to much of it for it to be gross. And everything, from the script to the acting to the action, the editing and art direction is purposely a wee goofy. But it’s all done with love, because Rodriguez knows his stuff. He may not be as talented a filmmaker as his former “Grindhouse” collaborator, Quentin Tarantino, but he’s just as skilled.
Cries of “Race War Bait!” rang out from more reactionary corners of the country upon the film's release, as people freaked out over “Machete”’s aggressively pro-immigration stance and the vilification of all but one of the white characters (the lone holdout being a white kid who was adopted my Mexicans and has joined The Network).
Accusing the folks behind “Machete” of trying to incite a race war is, of course, nonsense--why, some of Rodriguez’s best friends are white. As inflammatory as it is, “Machete” is, like Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” just a revenge-porn fantasy. And “Machete,” again like “Basterds,” is also pretty damn funny—watching Machete use a weedwacker to terrorize a henchman is hilarious.
The DVD has few extras to speak of, and they're little more than filler. You can watch the film with the soundtrack of a live audience reacting to the film in a theater, which seems kinda cool at first, but does little more than remind you how much better it is to see a movie live. There are also a half-dozen deleted scenes, four of which definitely deserved to be. The other two are reasonably amusing, featuring Jessica Alba’s ICE agent twice walking in on her slutty twin sister astride her latest conquest, but the effects are too intentionally cheesy, even to be included in the film itself.
It’s hard to imagine anyone who thinks they might enjoy “Machete” not actually enjoying it, the film is exactly as advertised: an over-the-top, blood-gushing spoof of a bygone cinematic era, with simplistic-enough-to-ignore political message. The only people who'll be offended or outraged by "Machete" are those looking to be offended or outraged.
"Machete" is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.