Immigrant Issues

'Machete' delivers the fun action that other summer blockbusters could not

Machete has something that fellow action film The Expendables was sorely lacking. No, I'm not talking about naturally produced muscle fibers; I'm talking about a discernible sense of humor that meshes nicely with an utter disregard for political correctness.

Oh, and nudity ... it has lots of nudity.

The latest from producer and co-director Robert Rodriguez is a gory blast, a film that knows what genre fans want, and isn't afraid to deliver it. The film originated as a fake trailer in the tragically underrated Grindhouse, and the schlock-fest is headed by the gloriously haggard Danny Trejo, who delivers the meat-headed fun that other summer offerings like Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables and the Rodriguez-produced Predators (which co-starred Trejo) only hinted at.

Trejo's Machete is an ex-federale with a complexion that looks like the inside of a 3 Muske-teers bar—and a penchant for extreme, bloody justice. After a tragic opening scene, during which a surprisingly chunky Steven Seagal establishes himself as one of the film's major bad guys, Machete ends up as a day laborer in Texas. He's spotted and hired by Booth (Jeff Fahey), a mysterious man who wants him to assassinate the controversial Sen. McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). McLaughlin is running on an anti-immigration platform, so Booth figures a probable illegal immigrant wouldn't mind taking a shot at him.

The whole thing is a setup (as revealed in both the fake Grindhouse trailer and the real Machete trailer): Booth is actually an evil adviser to McLaughlin who is looking to get the senator re-elected. It's nice to see Fahey expand upon the performance he gave in Grindhouse and turn Booth into a fully fleshed-out character. Fahey is hilarious; his sad days as The Lawnmower Man are now far behind him. As for De Niro, he hasn't been this over-the-top fun since the '90s. Think Max Cady, his deranged character in Cape Fear, but mellowed a bit by age and segueing into politics.

Trejo—an actor you see everywhere in supporting roles—gets his chance to headline, and he grabs the chance by the balls and makes it sing a bloody aria. After all of those past films, he's earned a sort of instant credibility as an action hero—and his grungy tattoos are real. When he makes out with Jessica Alba, one can't help but feel that he is scoring a victory for haggard and/or ugly guys everywhere. You also feel a little sorry for Alba but, hey, it's a paycheck.

And, yes, this film does have Jessica Alba ... who is artfully naked at one point. (God bless you, Jessica Alba!) She plays an immigration agent who spies Machete visiting a taco truck (that is commandeered by Michelle Rodriguez, who I'm kind of in love with). They head up a great female cast that also features Lindsay Lohan in her coolest role since Mean Girls. She plays Booth's unruly daughter, and, no, those are not her breasts in the naked pool scene; that's a body double. While you don't get to see her fully naked, you do get to see her blast away bad guys while dressed in a nun's outfit, which I consider a fair trade.

Seagal passed up a chance to be in The Expendables and wound up, thankfully, in this one. I come from the "I Hate Everything Stupid Steven Seagal Has Done!" corner of the movie theater (where all the cool people usually sit)—and this is the first time I purely enjoyed Seagal in something. He works better as a disgusting villain, in part because he's so oily and gross to look at. Props to the sound department for equipping him with that The Six Million Dollar Man sound effect every time he unsheathes his sword.

Like The Expendables, Machete utilizes a lot of CGI gore. The difference here is that the gore isn't supposed to be realistic; it's supposed to be otherworldly and crazy. It also helps that Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis purposely dirty up the print a little bit so that the digital effects blend in. Machete winds up being the rare exception where computerized gore is concerned; it works better than practical gore effects would have.

Speaking of practical gore effects, makeup artist Tom Savini, who did the gore for George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, is on hand—but not as a special-effects guy. As he's done for Rodriguez before (most notably in From Dusk Till Dawn), Savini makes an acting contribution, heartily playing popular hitman Osiris Ampanpour. Another Rodriguez alumnus, Cheech Marin, plays a friendly priest who isn't afraid to pick up some shotguns, shoot some bad guys and smoke some killer weed.

While the film takes place primarily in Texas, the film's depiction of evil Border Patrol guys (including one nicely played by Don Johnson) and De Niro's crazed senator should hit a nerve with Arizona residents. I'm thinking the filmmakers disagree, albeit it comically, in a big way with SB 1070.

Given that Grindhouse bombed at the box office, it's surprising to see a spin-off make it to the screen. The final credits promise that Machete will return with titles such as Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again, so the spirit of Grindhouse lives on, thanks to Robert Rodriguez and his band of nuts.


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