With Sin City 2 still in limbo, and a fourth Spy Kids on the way next year (seriously), Robert Rodriguez (and co-director Ethan Maniquis) returns with the film geeks everywhere have been clamouring for since its faux-trailer opened the failed Grindhouse experiment (commercially, at least).
Unlike his Grindhouse contribution, Planet Terror, Machete sticks much closer to the comfort zone of Rodriguez's "Mexico" trilogy (Mariachi, Desperado, Once Upon a Time In Mexico) or From Dusk Till Dawn, visually and plotting-/beat-wise.
Anyone that has experienced the B-movie-worshipping slaughter of the initial faux-trailer will be familiar with the set-up: the titular Machete is an ex-Federale/current illegal migrant day labourer hired to assassinate a hard line Texas politician who wants to close the border and deport illegals, double-crossed, left for dead and out for revenge. "He gets the girls and he kills the bad guys," the faux-trailer's voiceover so eloquently summarizes.
Machete certainly begins like it'll live up to its promise of being the greatest b-movie/revenge/exploitation/grindhouse film ever made. Detailing Machete's last ride as a Federale, heads and limbs are lopped off by a grizzled Danny Trejo (now in his mid-60s, and a second cousin to Rodriguez) with his namesake weapon; a naked female "hostage" removes a cellphone from an orifice; and an overweight Steven Segal (who is actually a reserve deputy sheriff in real life) waddles on-screen as a Mexican drug lord, oozing as much cheese and ham as sleaze and menace.
However, those familiar with Rodriguez's action oeuvre know he often starts strong, only to falter narratively, muddling up the plot, before concluding with climatic carnage that satisfies the butcher's bill, if not logic's. And Machete is no different. The initial rush of bloodshed and action gives way to jumbled exposition attempting to connect/introduce too many plot threads (a Mexican immigration network led by Michelle Rodriguez, political puppeteering, Segal's aforementioned drug lord, American vigilantes, an immigration officer played by Jessica Alba, etc.), while forgetting its inspirations. What blunts Machete's edge is its attempts to be an actual film and constrain or explain its excesses, forgetting that it's not a "real" film, nor should it attempt to be.
Machete easily works best when it's at its simplest (killing, dropping one-liners, revelling in its absurdity). While the film never quite lives up to the promise of its Grindhouse trailer, or its opening, it does feature some amazing acts of carnage scattered throughout (witness Machete swinging from intestines or the church crucifixion scene), some of the most absurd stunt casting ever (Robert De Niro as the senator, Don Johnson as a pro-American vigilante, Cheech Marin as Machete's brother and priest, Lindsay Lohan just being in anything at this point in her career) and Danny Trejo chopping down anyone that gets in his way.
It also incorporates much of the original trailer's footage into the film proper (despite inconsistencies, differing/added characters or shoehorning sets/scenes in without explanation) and takes numerous political jabs at the always hot-button U.S. issue of illegal immigration and labour, especially in Texas, and the U.S./Mexico border (the plans to build an electrified fence are hilarious, as well as possibly Orwellian prescient).
Reportedly initially hesitant to expand the idea, lest the fleshed-out version fail to live up to the promise of the unquestionably awesome trailer, Rodriguez had been kicking around Machete since Desperado (which also featured Danny Trejo as a knife-throwing bad-ass). And his fears weren't unfounded.
However, unlike The Expendables, which never gave viewers what they wanted (an absurd, over the top bloodbath from its action-star cast), Machete at least delivers on much of its promise. After all, he is Machete: he gets the girls and he kills the bad guys. (Fox)