Judging by the look and feel of “Machete” director Robert Rodriquez has clearly spent a lot of time at the local repertory theatre. Either that, or he’s hung around Quentin Tarantino’s house, watching old exploitation films from the 70s. The look and feel of his new film, “Machete,” inspired by a fake trailer he made for their co-directed epic “Grindhouse,” harkens back to a simpler, rougher time, but the context is very 2010. The film is part Mexploitation gore fest, part rant about illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States.
The story begins with federale Machete (Danny Trejo) trying in vain to rescue a hostage from the evil drug lord Torres (Steven Seagal). Less than three minutes into the film the knife wielding lawman has decapitated one unlikely bad guy and shot another using a gun still attached to a severed hand. Don’t trust this guy with the cutlery. The bust, however, goes bad and Torres ends up killing Machete’s wife and leaving him for dead. Cut to three years later. Of course Machete isn’t dead, but he is a broken man, living illegally in Texas, working as a day labourer. When he is asked to assassinate a radical congressman (Robert De Niro) it turns out that he is just a pawn in a much larger political game. Of course, Machete doesn’t like this. Machete doesn’t like lots of things—texting, for instance—and with the help of a radical Mexican rights leader (Michele Rodriquez), an immigration cop (Jessica Alba) and his brother, the murderous priest (Cheech Marin), Machete gets his bloody revenge.
“Machete” mixes Rodriquez’s usual blood and babes with a message, which could have been a good thing, but he is as subtle about hammering home his pro-immigration stance as he is when he sprays the walls with gallons of fake blood. As much as I like the “in-your-face-Tea-Partiers” attitude, I wanted less of that and more of the blood and babes. Rodriquez allows the pace to lag, wedging in too much story and too much “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us” in what should be a down-and-dirty b-movie.
But when he gets it right, when Machete is slicing and dicing and Lindsay Lohan is wearing a nun costume, wielding a gun and trading quips with Robert De Niro, the movie is Saturday afternoon matinee fun. Where else but in a Rodriquez movie would a character survive getting shot in the head because an old bullet already lodged in his skull blocked the new pellet? Who else but Rodriquez could get the notoriously unfunny Steven Seagal to deliver an intentionally funny line?
“Machete” has its moments and a timely message but falls victim to slack pacing. A shorter running time would still showcase Rodriquez’s ideas on race, class and immigration and result in a better movie.