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From the moment the first severed limbs go flying and the first decapitated head bounces across the floor sped on its way by pumping jets of blood, one knows exactly what one is in for with Machete.  Directors Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis have just introduced a new cinematic genre; Tex-Mexploitation has just joined the lexicon ushered in with thumping hydraulic low-riders, pugnacious homeboys, steamy Latina sexpots, and one haggard man who knows his way around a blade.

Years ago, someplace south of the border, a one-man army fell afoul of a drug lord and found himself tortured and forced to watch the kingpin sharpen a samurai sword on the neck of his wife.  Left for dead, the thwarted hero somehow survived the ordeal and has spent the next few decades burying the past, trying to get along as one of the thousands of faceless, nameless Mexican immigrants in America.  He joins the ranks of day labourers standing on the corner desperate for honest work.  The rumblings about an underground movement helping new arrivals headed by a mysterious female called Shé means little to our fallen superman.  A sleazy businessman hires the old warrior assuming that he can be easily manipulated into becoming a fall guy for a complicated scheme involving the assassination of an anti-immigration senator.  However, the dirty politico never counted on the fact that the patsy he got for cheap was the blood-splattered myth known as Machete.

Machete is a salsa-covered middle finger to the forces in the US that have chosen to wage war against an entire race of people while hiding their insidious intentions behind the altruism of keeping America’s borders safe.  Mexican pride is rampant in this blatant response to heavy-handed legislation like Arizona’s so-called “Papers, please” law, which proposed to make it legal for police to stop and question the status of anyone who somehow looked like they might be in the country without documents.  Rodriguez and Maniquis proudly play up to every deep-seated racist phobia the Minutemen and other self-appointed guardians of the nation have about Latinos.  As his name might hint, Machete is a very dangerous man with a knife, yet while he prefers blades over bullets, one would do well to fear the machine gun welded onto the handlebars of his motorcycle.  Machete is going to take your women, too; apparently looking like ten miles of beaten road and thoroughly worn around the edges has nothing on Machete’s innate appeal to every X-chromosome he comes in contact with.  His lusty harem includes the government agent trying to capture the leader of an immigrant smuggling ring, as well as the leader of the immigrant smuggling ring (- isn’t that a conflict of interest?), and both the sleazy businessman’s wife and daughter.  I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but this is all merely a part of the legend of the great Machete whispered about by homeboys and cowboys on both sides of the border.  Unwilling as he is to return to his bloody fame, Machete is no one’s fool and when he’s dragged into the anti-Mexican plot to gain sympathy for the Latino-hating senator, the resourceful hero grabs anything handy, knives, scalpels, intestines to bring the fight to The Man.

Gleefully flying in the face of political correctness and unabashed in its Pro-Latino stance, Machete doesn’t duck comparisons to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970’s, with their cool and deadly all-powerful heroes who prevailed through impossible odds.  It also shares the sense of racial pride and identity that made those movies a rallying point for their audiences.  One of the marked differences between them is the Blaxploitation films were incubated during a strong upsurge in African–American self-esteem; the era of the Black Panthers and “Black is Beautiful.”  Machete arrives in an opposite climate; with Latinos being made scapegoats for the ills of America’s failing economy, which makes the release of this film and its joyful subversiveness so much richer.  Machete celebrates its Tex-Mexicaness with a gorgeous parade of flashy customised motorcycles and blinding, bouncing low-riders.  During the film’s big showdown between the downtrodden immigrants and the redneck militia men, Latino construction workers, dishwashers, doctors, farmers, nurses, homeboys and cholas all join the battle.

It is also worth mentioning that Machete is simply an outrageously fun time at the movies, with Rodriguez and Maniquis pulling out all the gunfire, gore, explosions and two-fisted action they can lay their hands on.  Holding true to the faux-trailer that preceded Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 Grindhouse double feature and even using footage from that fake preview, Machete is shot and structured as a 1970’s AIP B-movie, where there is no limit to what feats of derring-do our protagonist can achieve or how incongruous (- or campy) the levels of acting might be.  As Machete, Danny Trejo, the craggy-voiced character actor who’s done more than his time as memorable support in nearly two hundred film and television projects, finally gets to shine in a role he was born to play.  Besides all of Machete’s rollicking action, the comedy – intentional and otherwise - is hilarious:  The stone-faced Trejo delivers what I’m sure will be one of the film’s most quoted lines after being faced with twenty-first century technology; “Machete don’t text.”  Along for the trip in the low-rider is Michelle Rodriguez as the kindly but tough taco truck owner who feels responsible for the waves of new immigrants that crowd her lunch wagon every day.  Jeff Fahey is the man with a mission to implicate Mexicans for his own financial benefit even if that means the death of his state senator.  Cheech Marin plays a not-entirely abstinent Catholic priest with a special connection to Machete.  After those four, here’s where things in the casting department get weird:  Miami Vice’s Crockett, Don Johnson is “introduced” as a gravel-voiced Minuteman who enjoys patrolling the US-Mexico border for hapless refugees a little too much.  We also have Jessica Alba of the questionable Spanish accent as the INS agent who takes an interest in our itinerant superman.  And in the bizarre box, we have Steven Segal under a roadkill toupee and heavy bronzer as Torrez, the ruthless drug kingpin who murdered Machete’s family.  Lindsey Lohan has a small but strange role as the businessman’s trampy daughter, who follows a divine calling to help the downtrodden.  As the immigrant-hating senator, Robert De Niro’s southwestern accent slips into something decidedly more northeastern the minute the cameras stop rolling.  In one of the most hilarious moments of the film and possibly of De Niro’s career, the corrupt politician, on the run for his life from both the Mexicans and the Minutemen and in need of transportation, carjacks a yellow taxi.

Machete is audacious, outrageous and a lot of fun.  A serio-comic action hero flick for these troubled days; Rodriguez and Maniquis find the perfect mixture of politics and good times.  If Machete’s two sequels announced at the end credits really do come to pass and are as much of a blast as this film, I’ll be waiting with mariachi hat on my head and tequila shot in hand.  Viva Machete!


~ The Lady Miz Diva

September 3rd, 2010





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