Machete Review: Cutting Edge
Steeped in the cinematic traditions of the exploitation and low-budget action movie genres that Robert Rodriguez and his artistic soul mate Quentin Tarantino frequently express their admiration for, Machete is an exercise in brain versus brawn, with greater emphasis settling on the latter. However, despite some particularly negative critical responses, Machete’s enjoyably indulgent wallowing in sex and gratuitous violence is defensible owing to a palpable sense of political outrage towards US attitudes to Mexican immigration, giving the film a backbone which might have otherwise been spineless.
A short high-octane introductory sequence sees Machete (Danny Trejo), an incorruptible federale, in his native Mexico, grinding the pedal to the floor, defying the authorities as he attempts to free a kidnap victim from her captors. The scene sets the tone for the film; simplistic framing and exposition anticipates bursts of explosive battles, followed by female nudity, garnished by convoluted but often witty one-liners. It’s a variant of the more ‘vulgar’ elements Sam Peckinpah used to delight in, though I doubt the director of Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia would have gone so far as to have a female character conceal a mobile phone in her vagina.
Exiled from his native Mexico following his botched rescue, Machete joins a growing line of illegal immigrants from across the border searching for work in Texas, many of whom have faced death first hand in their efforts to cross the state line. Spotted winning a street fight (conducted whilst eating a burrito and without landing one punch), Machete is recruited by a corrupt political official (Jeff Fahey), himself of Mexican descent, to assassinate a senator (Robert De Niro) running for congress, the linchpin of the campaign reliant on the erection of an electrical fence to deter potential ‘trespassers’, ironically accepting electoral funds from a Mexican drug lord (Steven Seagal). Accepting the job, he immediately hands the money to Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a revolutionary who aids her fellow countrymen in attaining the necessary papers to secure citizenship. With law enforcement (Jessica Alba), drug lords and political ingrates converging to finally kill the legendary Machete, the film progressively builds to a wild and untamed finale.
In keeping with Rodriguez’s penchant for knowing nods and references to the audience, there are several recognisable flourishes explored in previous films; the tongue-in-cheek “Introducing Don Johnson”; the trailers that adorn the end credits (“Look out for Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again”); not to mention the dialogue which revels in snappy ripostes (“Have mercy Padre!” – “God has mercy. I have a gun”).
After a succession of disappointing films Rodriguez has crafted a film that, whilst being somewhat insubstantial and vacant, has just enough heart and soul to keep the blood pumping and the adrenaline running on full flow. As a critique of America’s ingrained paranoia over US/Mexican immigration, it has all the revolutionary zeal and chest beating the sub-continent is famed for. As De Niro’s senatorial campaign advert juxtaposes Latinos with cockroaches and lice, one may laugh at its extremity but the giggling ends when you realise just how close to the bone it actually is and the lives that are at risk.