The film Grindhouse included a number of fake trailers for (mostly) awesome looking movies. At that time, Robert Rodriguez’s trailer for the then imaginary film “Machete” offered a lot of awesome images of asskickery, but what made it great was that it had Danny Trejo in a leading role. Trejo has been kicking around Hollywood for over twenty five years, starting as an extra and moving up to “that guy” status after turns in films like Desperado and Heat. 2010’s Machete then is Trejo’s first starring role as an ex-federale turned day-laborer hired by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) to kill Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). It turns out the shooting is a double cross, and Machete must then get revenge.
Joined by an all star and random cast of actors that range from Steven Seagal, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, the aforementioned De Niro and Fahey, Cheech Martin, Michelle Rodriguez, Don Johnson and Tom Savini, it’s a weird collision of actors all making a film that was born of a fake trailer. The results are mixed, but it’s hard to hate a film like this. My review of Machete on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
The film begins with Machete in the federales, trying to rescue a kidnapped girl. He succeeds, but she’s working for Torrez (Seagal), who then shows up and kills Machete’s wife in front of him. Machete barely escapes with his life. Cut to a couple of years later and he’s in Texas, where Senator John McLaughlin (De Niro) is running as a hard core Republican bent on border reform. Machete looks for work as a day laborer, and that’s where he’s noticed by Sartana Rivera (Alba) – a cop checking on illegal immigration – and Luz (Rodriguez), who works a taco truck but mostly is focused on her work as a leader of the Mexican underground.
Machete is hired by Booth (Fahey) to do some dirty work, to which he isn’t given a choice: he’s got to assassinate McLaughlin. But when he’s about to shoot, he’s double crossed and left for dead. This leads both Booth and McLaughlin (who Booth was working for) to Torrez, who is behind everything. Booth has troubles on top of Machete because his daughter is a drug addicted slut (Lohan). Eventually border patroller Von Jackson (Don Johnson) and Torrez team up to take on Machete and his band of day laborers.
The biggest problem with Machete is that it’s 105 minutes. This is a film that should verge on incoherence (and it kind of does anyway), but should not be much longer than 91 minutes in total. Currently the film is too plot heavy and too stupid for any of those side-issues to amount to much – there’s subplots (like Cheech Marin as a priest) that go very few places worthy of screen time. The other problem is that it never fully commits to a tone.
The film functions both as a grindhouse flick, and a parody of those sorts of movies, and the film has a cake and eat it too attitude, which makes it hard to invest (another reason why a shorter running time would be better). But the film succeeds as junky, funky action. Especially when Steven Seagal is on screen; Seagal knows exactly the movie he’s making.
Less bothersome is the lack of nudity from its leads. Jessica Alba takes a shower and shows nothing, and Lohan gets an obvious body double for some stuff, and then goes nude for another part. Though the film starts promisingly, it definitely chickens out, and to really pay homage to these movies you really need a scene where Trejo is having completely uncomfortable sex. Or at least he should have walked through a strip club. There’s also a sense that Lohan was mostly excised from the movie. The advertising also backed away from her, and she’s mostly terrible in the film even whilst playing a drugged out party girl. From all evidence, this suggests her career is officially over.
The film has a couple of good to great action beats, the best probably being where Machete gets into a fight while having some coffee and a burrito, but for the most part the film is filled with good ideas that have no build. The film’s trailer sets up Machete riding through an explosion with a mini-gun on the front of his chopper. This seems like it should be a big pay off, but everything about it happens in about three minutes, making the money shot of the trailer mostly a dud. This sort of behavior is seen throughout the film, as Michelle Rodriguez gets decked out in weapons and looks kind of like she’s wearing a “sexy Snake Plissken” Halloween costume, and then uses every gun in her arsenal in less than a minute.
That’s like a lot of this film, rushed set up of a reasonably good idea, then quick pay-off. But it’s hard for me to go hard on a film starring Danny Trejo. Even if Jessica Alba can’t act and can’t deliver her big speech moment, and Robert De Niro seems slightly bored – that works for the film too in that it recalls embarrassed performances by respectable actors in dreck (often when they’re past their prime), and actresses hired more for their bra size than talent. There’s a lack of definition to much of the film, but it is engaging enough to give much of this a pass.
Fox doesn’t seem particularly interested in this title and neither – it seems – were the filmmakers. Robert Rodriguez gets the possessory title credit, but he co-directed it with Ethan Manquis. What his role was in the behind the scenes is complicated, though almost 90% of the Machete fake trailer footage is in the movie, so it’s possible he was just behind that, or he could have directed almost all of it – hard to say, and there’s no answers here.
Fox’s Blu-ray is surprisingly sparse for them, and for a major release. The film comes in widescreen (1.85:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD surround, and with a digital copy. The film opens in the rough scratchy style of the Grindhouse movies, but that disappears quickly, and the transfer here is excellent. The film comes with an “Audience reaction track” that comes with the feature film, but no commentary. Also included are ten deleted scenes (11 min.), with Alba’s character having a sexually indiscreet twin sister being the highlight. Also included is the film’s theatrical and red band trailer.