And that, dear friends and neighbors, is what brings our title character to the beginning of that Fake Trailer: "Machete" that started the whole Grindhouse experience for us just before 2007's Planet Terror unspooled before our unsuspecting eyes. Initially, creator, director, producer, writer, visual effects supervisor Robert Rodriguez considered releasing his expansion upon the phony preview as a direct-to-DVD film or even an extra on the deluxe Planet Terror disc... however with the backing of 20th Century Fox and his own home-grown Troublemaker Studios, our boy was able to launch the prospect full fledged onto the big screen to help close out that crazy summer blockbuster season of 2010! This new film Machete not only expands the story set out in the 2007 preview but brings in some great new aspects and characters and actors, all under the cruel tutelage of producer Quentin Tarantino (credited with no less than 16 other producers, including the Double-R himself), co-writer Álvaro Rodríguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis!
Robert, Alvaro, Ethan, Quentin and that veritable militiaof other crew pick up the story of Machete three years later when somehow Machete has survived his horrid tragedies and is working as a day laborer in Austin, Texas.
This part of the story puts him on the radar of two very beautiful women. The first is a Roach Coach Taco Vendor by day, Revolutionary by night Luz (AKA Shé as played by Michelle Rodriguez) and the second is Sartana, agent of "La Migra" (as played by Jessica Alba)!
This, alone, reminds me of how long it's been since I've visited Austin and how I need to visit there again soon... hopefully on a Working Holiday.
Unfortunately, as all of us who have seen the 2007 "Preview" know, this also puts him in the sights of the wealthy political insider named Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), who offers him way more money than any Day Laborer could expect to boggart to assassinate one Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro... really).
See, the Senator is one of those right-wing politicians who wants to bus all the illegal immigrants back across the border and keep a massive electric fence up to keep them there. In the mean time Rodriguez and company show us he's more than just a talking head, but a real, live participant in those vigilante groups that patrol the Mexican border. Yes siree, Bob, that good old boy McLaughlin is in cahoots with slime like Von Jackson (Don Johnson) and his volunteer militia in their patrol of the boarder and all their other activities up to, and including, the murder of those who cross the boarder illegally.
Obviously Booth is one of those good guys on the wrong side of the law, right? Well, again, if you watched the preview you know there's more to the story than just that. Could this be some big set-up, an inside job or a twisted tale of cross-border politics and crime? Or might it be all of the above leaving Machete as the sole Ojo del Toro? Eh... Could Be-eee!
This is where the plot starts to fill up with players that stretch far beyond the Trailer's scope. We're soon (re-)introduced to Padre Benito del Toro (Cheech Marin) and booth's own wife June (Alicia Marek, whom we see naked... again)! We also get to meet Booth's sweet but naughty daughter April (Lindsay Lohan) and the sexy twin nurses Electra and Elise Avellan!
It isn't long before Machete is on the proverbial LAM with all of these varied players (and many, many more) alternately jumping in as friend or foe or both depending on what the script calls for at the time. Naturally you've got more than a few other good and bad guys popping up on each side of the aisle. These range from minor good guys like Daryl Sabara's Julio and Gilbert Trejo's Jorge to evil baddies like the vicious Sniper (Shea Whigham) and Torrez' sexy Henchwoman (Cheryl Chin). But when Machete turns out to be way too much for everybody on any side, the ultimate killer is sent in to do the ultimate job... yep, we're talking about a bad ass named Osiris Ampanpour! Now who would you get to play that guy? Any guesses, folks? Well how about TOM FUCKING SAVINI?
With the nonstop action, one-liners, plot reminiscent of those message-heavy 1970s Exploitation Flicks and nudity, nudity, nudity, Machete is most commonly great fun. It's great to see Danny Trejo in a starring role, it's cool to see Steven Seagal back and... well, hell, the whole cast is pretty damned cool to see. I mean, come on... Cheech, Don Johnson, Rodriguez' hot nieces... and Tom Savini, man! It's just a cool, cool flick so much of the time.
On the other hand, this isn't quite as smart as Robert Rodriguez would like to believe that it is. Yeah, I know, I know, this is a spin-off from Grindhouse, and, like Grindhouse there are tons of scenarios performed with tongue planted ever so firlmy in cheek! In short, how can you nitpick a movie that's SUPPOSED to be bad? Well, it's quite clear that Machete is a throwback as were its predecessors, but this isn't the gimmick that the previous films were. Sure a lot of it is intentionally funny (or intentionally unintentionally funny, if you get my meaning), but often the ends don't quite meet and the story begins to rely on its many conceits to work. Often the "Mexploitation" and tongue-in-cheek aspects are used as crutches to overcome a lot of the shortcomings inherent in this fun-but-flawed film.
On occasion Machete resorts to shock value to be thrilling and more often than not the story leans on improbable and impossible moments to surprise the audience and cover its plot holes with scotch tape. Major characters fade in and out of the plot and developed characters are dropped or written out as the film over-inflates to the point that it becomes top-heavy. In this way Machete feels a lot like Rodriguez' Once upon a Time in Mexico, heavy on characters, heavy on promise, heavy on message and somewhat short on payoff. This might be excusable in Machete's send-up and tributary nature, especially when it's rife with comedy.
However, Machete also gets bogged down in its "Message", as did Once upon a Time in Mexico! It's quite clear what Rodriguez thinks about the real-life politics his film reflects and he wants to make damned sure that the audience understands every bit of it. To this end he creates caricatured characters with over-the-top, satirical dialogue and extreme situations that border on social spoof. The hero is a Mexican Superman who gets the women and kills the bad guys, but (in spite of the film's violent mission statement) Machete never becomes a mass murderer. The villains are flawed, powerful people that are shown to be too comically idiotic to have any place in making any decisions about the invariably honorable and downtrodden immigrant population. Even the Immigration Officials gain that classic "Change of Heart" and start to fight for "WHAT IS RIGHT!"
Speaking of fighting, in a film this violent, you know there's going to have to be one massive final battle with even more changing characters and fizzled plot points, but still more explosions, beheadings, shootings, quips and suprises. Yes, it's really quite a final battle, filled with spectacle and sanctimony... and yeah, it's still great fun, even as Rodriguez slaps on at least three endings to the film after the "Climax" unfolds.
A special salute to the beautiful women of this movie should be given. Michelle Rodriguez is in incredible shape and has the chance to show it in multiple ways. Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan are likewise remarkably beautiful while Alicia Marek and Mayra Leal are "visually stunning" without any CGI (or anything else) added to their performances. While its true that some of the amazing nudity promised in both the real and fake trailers are provided by body-doubles, both Lohan and Alba do have a couple of greatly revealing moments that are worth the price of admission alone. Ladies, I salute you!
And although it's far from perfect, I salute Machete as well with Three Stars out of Five. With most of the original preview re-used in the footage of this film, this most assuredly legitimizes and makes the fake trailer Machete all too real, but it also takes away just a bit of the novelty of having a fake preview to begin with. Similarly, it's hard to say whether the fun and funk of Machete takes away from its message or if the message takes away from the fun and funk. It is easy to say that Machete is a hell of a lot of fun and very worth seeing... and more than just as a DVD Extra! So until you gringos decide to come after me with knives-a-shinin' and challenge me to an old-fashioned duel... I'll see you in the next reel!