September 9, 2010


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Machete (R)
Danny Trejo plays the wrong Mexican to f-word with in Machete, a giddily fun Mexploitation film based on Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror fake trailer of the same name.

Machete (Trejo) is a Mexican Federale attempting to bring down drug kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal, in all his doughy glory). He is betrayed by his superiors and is soon on the run, winding up working as a day laborer in Austin, Texas. He hangs out around a taco truck run by Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a woman who also runs an underground network to help illegal immigrants get settled in the U.S. And boy do they need the help, particularly with conservative state senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) looking to enact extremely restrictive immigration legislation and border vigilante Stillman (Don Johnson, credited with an “and introducing Don Johnson”) and his militia hunting down and shooting border-crossers. Even sympathetic immigration agents, like Agent Sartana (Jessica Alba), are trying to shut down The Network, as Luz’s group is called.

Machete is trying to keep his head down during all of this, but Booth (Jeff Fahey), a man claiming to want McLaughlin out of the way, pays Machete a briefcase full of cash — and issues some threats — to assassinate McLaughlin. Machete agrees, meaning to merely wound the politician, but then he is double-crossed and realizes that Booth works for McLaughlin and Machete was set up to be a scapegoat to foment anti-Mexican feelings that would help cement McLaughlin’s election.

And there’s more. More double-crosses, gun fights, explosions, lots of machete-facilitated head-lopping-offs (by Machete, naturally), those busty twins who seem to appear in every Rodriguez movie (IMDb says they’re his nieces), here playing nurses in very short skirts. Other ladies in various states of undress abound, including Lindsay Lohan, playing the trampy daughter of Booth, who engages in some Machete love. And just when you think things couldn’t get more loco, Cheech Marin shows up as Machete’s shotgun-wielding brother who is a priest.

I wondered while watching this movie if I should feel queasy at all about Machete’s use of the most nacho-cheesy Latin stereotypes and the potential for some out there in Lou Dobbs Nation not to, you know, get it. But I couldn’t gin up any actual worry — Machete is just too much silly fun and I was too delighted to see so many Latino actors get work. (Kids today have no idea — for me it was all Maria from Sesame Street and half the cast of West Side Story. Oh, to have had a bad-assed Jessica Alba or a Michelle Rodriguez to look up to.) And under all the manufactured “film” scratches and the 1970s font there is even a little si se puede message, delivered in at least three feisty, not-totally-sense-making scenes, including one featuring a stiletto-heel-wearing Alba, standing on a car.

Not every movie appeals to everyone’s taste — Machete might actually be the best example of that ever. I recognize that plenty of people don’t want to see a guy’s hand lopped off and then picked up so someone can get a few more shots out of the gun that’s still in it. But if the mental image of that, the thought of a revolution-leading Alba or a Spanish-slang-spouting Segal makes you laugh, then this is your movie. B+

Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity. Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis and written by Robert Rodriguez and Alvaro Rodriguez, Machete is an hour and 45 minutes long and distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox.