Planet Terror and Death Proof were excellent throwbacks to the old “grindhouse” films of the ’70s and ’80s, full of the action, violence, and exploitation that were the highlights of the genre. Robert Rodriguez’s latest effort, Machete, is once again a movie in the same vein, yet it feels forced, as if the director was trying too hard to capture the magic of those low-budget cult films. Everything you’d expect is there, from gritty heroes and over-the-top villains to extreme bloodletting and an abundance of nudity, but seldom do any real surprises make an appearance. Precious few scenes invoke the awe-inspiring creativity of his previous homage, or even the ingenuity behind the original “fake trailer”. There’s still plenty of fun to be had with the hilarity-infused bloodshed and the endless supply of outlandishly realized characters, but the quality seems to be steadily replaced by quantity.
Three years ago in Mexico, determined Federale Machete (Danny Trejo) is betrayed and set-up by his boss, resulting in his wife and child being murdered by drug kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal). Now, in Texas, Machete resurfaces when hired to assassinate Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), an extreme advocate against illegal immigration. Once again betrayed and set-up, Machete plots his revenge against the men who’ve wronged him with the help of resistance fighter Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), ICE Agent Sartana (Jessica Alba), and a shotgun-toting Padre (Cheech Marin).
Machete wins the award for most beheadings in a movie. Sadly, despite the nonstop violence, insanely bloody carnage, gratuitous nudity (featuring Lindsay Lohan in several nude scenes, not quite covered up enough to claim she didn’t actually show anything), modified lowriders and choppers, machineguns, and scantily-clad femme fatales, the movie is a little slow. It’s almost as if Rodriguez ran out of ideas. Although the whole film is based on a short trailer from Grindhouse (in turn based on a concept dreamed up years earlier), the possibilities were limitless – only a brief premise was established about a man with a penchant for knife-wielding, finally allowing Danny Trejo to nab a starring role. With him, an impressive, eclectically assembled supporting cast conglomerates for a showy, exploitation spectacle; but many ideas are borrowed directly from Rodriguez’ other works, as well as the films of Quentin Tarantino. It seems that he continues attempting to revive the grindhouse genre, even if general audiences can’t get into it and he has no new areas to examine.
Machete does offer plenty of humor. Even when the political commentary by bodyguards taking a breather becomes overbearing, or when bloodthirsty imagery becomes repetitive, the dialogue is ready to dish out appropriately campy nonsense. “How hard is it to kill a day laborer!” screams the villain, when Machete proves that even though he’s injured in every scene, he still possesses a level of invincibility like every other larger-than-life cinema badass. He’s also expertly outfitted with antagonists of varying quirkiness and special weaponry (including those found from 1-800-HITMAN), vastly outnumbering his allies and providing nonstop fodder for his hungry blades. It’s consistently funny, entertaining and another solid example of low-budget, exploitation filmmaking, but it doesn’t have quite enough content for a full movie. It lacks the ability to smoothly transition every hallucinatory action sequence into a naturally flowing story. It is, however, the kind of wild flick to relish in violently poetic shootouts in a church, where heavily armed assassins descend upon a shotgun-toting priest, to the pleasantly slow tunes of Mexican gospel music.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)