Tuesday, 1 February 2011


Quentin Tarantino has a lot to answer for. Machete, of course, began as a trailer as part of Grindhouse, the parody exploitation film(s), he co-directed with his low-budget emanuensis Robert Rodriquez. It follows almost slavishly the same formula, and with both its knowing pseudo-cheapness and its often referential humour, it's basically very enjoyable. But it's a shallow kind of enjoyment, one tempered by the cloak of irony, of self-awareness, that hangs over the film, like a semiotic critic about to go semi-idiotic on it.

Otherwise, though, what you see is what you see, lots of action, lots of soft-core sex, and some real humour, leavened by some performances by big name actors playing off or with their image, or sometimes hamming it up—and of course Lindsay Lohan as more or less herself.

Machete (the iconic Danny Trejo) is a Mexican cop, lured to a trap by drug kingpin Steven Seagal, who sees his wife murdered and is left for dead in a burning house. When we see him next, he is in Texas, looking for day labour like all the other illegals. He's hired to assassinate a right-wing state senator (Robert DeNiro) but is actually shot himself, while DeNiro is wounded by the same shooter. Aided by his brother (Cheech Marin), a priest, and by local activist Luz (Michelle Rodriquez), and avoiding immigration agent Jessica Alba, Trejo basically uncovers a plot by business man Jeff Fahey, the brains behind DeNiro, to enflame the immigration issue to allow for total border control, which somehow will allow Seagal to dominate the drug trade. And did I mention Don Johnson leads the border vigilantes, and shoots Michelle Rodriquez through the head, a wound whose only consequence is that she gets to wear a cool eye patch?

Along the way Machete gets his vengeance, which includes a mother-daughter threesome on camera with Fahey's wife and drug-addled internet celeb daughter (Lohan, as I said, playing herself). The ultimate shootout is the over-the-top confrontation you'd expect, although Lohan in a nun's suit shooting on the side of the good guys may be too much for the suspension of disbelief to take hold! Rodriquez and co-director, his longtime editor Ethan Maniquis keep the action moving, though characters do morph at will from capable to not. Cheech gets to have fun with his priest wielding two shotguns, and though Alba at times seems to be expecting a more serious role, Michelle Rodriquez really steals the chick side of the film. It's true in spirit to the era of Grindhouse, and it's fun on its own terms. And it's certainly worthwhile to see Danny Trejo get not just the girl, but all the girls. And the best line: 'Machete don't text.' If only we weren't supposed to take it so seriously!

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