Two out of Five Stars
Rated R/105 min.
What began as a fake trailer in front of Grind House three years ago grew into a cult favorite and is now a feature length movie. Be careful what you wish for. This extension of a deliciously funny, tasteless three-minute coming attractions reel stars Danny Trejo as the title character, a former Mexican lawman on a revenge spree against a powerful cluster of corrupt gringos (played by Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson and Robert De Niro). Along the way, he woos an immigration agent (Jessica Alba, better than expected), meets up with his female counterpart (Michelle Rodriguez) and faces his lifelong nemesis (Steven Seagal!). Director Robert Rodriguez has created a new genre: Mex-ploitation. Fans of intentional B-movies will have a ball, but it has a number of limitations, starting with its leading man.
Trejo is a veteran character actor with scores of movies under his belt, but this is his first (and likely last) shot at top billing. Despite his considerable presence he’s an unlikely and unsatisfying leading man, even playing a role that requires little more than growling lines and taking lives. Michael Jai White’s wonderful turn in Black Dynamite demonstrated that it’s possible to give a full-fledged comic performance while spoofing the exploitation genre. Thankfully, Trejo is surrounded by possibly the year’s most delightfully off-the-wall cast.
Rodriguez, as is his tendency, juggles more characters than he knows what to do with, but they all make the most of their screen time. It’s fun to watch Alba and Michelle Rodriguez get catty, and Cheech Marin elicits the biggest laughs as Trejo’s former partner in crime. Lindsey Lohan sends up her bad-girl image in a rowdy supporting role, and De Niro hasn’t given a comic performance this outrageous since his goofy Stardust cameo.
Rodriguez constantly reminds you that you’re not supposed to take any of this seriously, but the strongest aspect of the movie is the savage shots it takes at America’s border phobia. A couple of satirical political commercials, jabs at Mexican stereotypes and comments on U.S./Mexico relations will likely be conversation starters and are the boldest strokes here. Otherwise, the action scenes are letdowns (the Trejo/Seagal showdown is sadly anti-climactic) and the movie isn’t as funny as it should be.
In fact, of all the phony trailers shown throughout the criminally underrated Grind House (a joint effort by Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino) Machete was the least promising contender for an actual movie spinoff. Then again, if the idea of a guy escaping out of a window using a henchman’s lower intestines as a rope makes you giddy, here’s your movie.