It's a great story, isn't it?
Born in 1944, Machete star Danny Trejo grew up in California and, as a child drug addict, spent much of his teen years in and out of trouble for a variety of offenses. After an extended stint in San Quentin Prison, where Trejo captured prison boxing titles in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions, he got released and stayed faithful to a 12-step program that he credits for saving his life. As a Cocaine Anonymous sponsor, one day Trejo was called out by a young man to what turned out to be the set of the movie Runaway Train. Trejo's rough, tattooed appearance quickly led to his being cast as an extra and, in one of those weird life coincidences that can only be described as fate, the film's screenwriter happened to be an ex-con himself who remembered Trejo and his boxing skills from San Quentin. This led to Trejo being hired to train the film's star, Eric Roberts. Faster than you can do a kick drop, the film's director liked what he saw and cast Trejo as Roberts' opponent in the film.
The rest is bad guy cinematic history.
Having long toiled around Hollywood in a variety of supporting roles, mainly as bad guys and mean dudes, Trejo gets his first chance at leading man in Robert Rodriguez's new flick Machete, a spin-off of a faux B-movie trailer that Rodriguez created for the Grindhouse flick.
On some offbeat chance you're wondering, Machete is not another Rodriguez family film.
If you can't tell from the movie poster for Machete if this is a film for you, then you're not paying attention.
Machete could be and likely should be Summer 2010's most gloriously violent film, an almost joyful ode to exploitation flicks that never comes close to the perfection of the Grindhouse trailer upon which it is based, yet it manages to play out with so much exuberance and unrelenting devotion that it's difficult to not get swept up in its spirit anyway.
If you really loved Stallone's The Expendables, then Machete will leave you in the throes of cinematic orgasm. Robert Rodriguez is a gifted director but, far too often, his gifts have been masked by his complete inability to resist self-indulgence, self-satisfaction and an almost tongue-in-cheek approach to filmmaking that has the impact of making hsi films feel like his own personal toys rather than movies for an audience.
While Machete doesn't exactly offer up a restrained Rodriguez, it does serve up the entertaining excesses of a pulp/exploitation flick with the narcissistic stylings of a self-made filmmaker who knows what he likes and expects you to like it as well.
For the most part, you will.
Machete is going to do what Danny Trejo's career what The Wrestler did for Mickey Rourke's.
In other words, nothing.
Trejo can't, in any true sense of the word, actually "act" but he can make for such a strong presence that what he's actually doing here in Machete works for the most part. Machete requires Trejo to look tough, act tougher, handle a machete (duh!), represent stoically, wink at himself and those around him, occasionally be funny and, well, that's about it.
There's no doubt that there will be those of you who will be offended by Machete and, if you have any doubt whatsoever, please avoid this film. There won't be any wonderful plot surprises, award-winning acting or groundbreaking technology to be found. Instead, Machete takes The Expendables' crown as this summer's most raunchy, violent, exploitative and unashamedly fun guilty pleasure.
Seriously, how many films can manage to feature a longtime supporting player/ex-con (Trejo), an Oscar winner (Robert Deniro), a gossip rag queen (Lindsay Lohan), a B-list steady (Jeff Fahey), a washed up action star who avoided The Expendables (Steven Seagal) and more?
The original 2 1/2-minute spoof trailer for Machete managed to spell out a pretty clear, if obviously skeletal, plotline for a story. Expanded to right around 100 minutes, Machete paints a very loose story about a highly skilled Mexican Federale (Trejo) who is hired to assassinate a senator only to discover a touch too late that he's been set up. Barely surviving a sniper's bullet, he swears revenge and sets out with a loyal friend, now a priest with a vow of nonviolence (Cheech Marin), and gets down to business.
Boy, does he get down to business.
Along the way, you have such characters as an immigrant shooting Texas state senator with a delightfully drawn out drawl (Robert Deniro), a Mexican taco stand owner with an activism bent (Michelle Rodriguez), a border agent determined to shut down the aforementioned activist (Jessica Alba), a super bad guy and Mexican drug trader (Steven Seagal) who killed Machete's wife and an American vigilante (Don Johnson) who won't hesitate to kill anything or anyone who looks, acts, feels or breathes like a Mexican.
Throw in appearances by Lohan, Tom Savini, Sacha Baron Cohen, Tim Roth, Rose McGowan and Daryl Sabara and you've got one bad ass, relentlessly winky (not the Teletubbie!) 100-minute B-movie extraordinaire.
The story itself sounds heavy, but rest assured that Rodriguez for the most part leaves the story and, for that matter, anything intelligent on the backburner in favor of abundant doses of blades, babes and booze along with ample doses of humor that will leave you feeling guilty later.
Or maybe not.
The tone of Machete is wildly uneven, an approach that for the most part works and for the most part feels like an intentional choice rather than the result of Rodriguez's throwing virtually everything at the screen. The cast, with the exception of a mysteriously off-the-mark Lindsay Lohan, seems to get what Rodriguez is trying to accomplish here, an almost Troma-like devotion to B-movie exploitation mixed in with genuine action, self-aware humor and even momentary touches of heart. Seriously.
There are scenes that play intensely over-the-top and perhaps condescending towards the audience, for example a scene in which Trejo's Machete escapes using the remains of a man's intestines, are spelled out so clearly that it seems Rodriguez doesn't quite trust his own audience to "get it."
We get it already.
Do you want it?
That's the big question. Truly, this is one film where you can tell from looking at the movie poster if you're going to embrace the film. If you find yourself looking at the movie poster going "Man, this is going to be freaking awesome," then in all likelihood it will be. If, on the other hand, you find yourself cringing and thinking "How stupid," then in all likelihood Machete is a film you should ignore.
Machete may not turn Danny Trejo into Hollywood's next leading man, but it does serve to remind us why the actor has been a consistent Hollywood presence through more than 140 films with his ability to mix heart, humor and hellish violence.
As Trejo lets us know "Machete don't text," but he sure does kick some major ass.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic