Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Review: Machete

I have a great amount of respect for Robert Rodriguez's talents, though perhaps less for his attitude. He remains an original and intelligent action director in an age where good action movies are an increasingly endangered species. He occasionally seems to have a mild fear of success (example: He's yet to make Sin City 2) but he generally puts out good product. With that in mind, here's Machete.

Machete is based on fake trailer, the only one to make it on to either of the original Grindhouse DVD's, about Danny Trejo as Danny Trejo in a more heroic version of essentially every role he's had in evey Robert Rodriguez movie ever made. The character technically traces his origins to a minor-ish character in the original Spy Kids who was essentially in there for a joke. For my part, it's less why it took Mr. Rodriguez so long to give a character named after a brutal weapon his own movie and more why it took him so long to make Danny Trejo an action star, given that he's one of the most terrifying looking men working in Hollywood today.

But all that's irrelevant. The plot could be swiftly summed up as “Here is a gun, here is a bladed weapon, here are some people, KILL!” but that would be lazy on my part. Machete (pronounced Ma-Chet-te) is a Mexican super-cop who is betrayed by his commanding officer and left for dead. 3 years later he's a day laborer working on the Texas border who is hired to kill a racist senator but he is again betrayed and left for dead (people need to learn to not to do that). He goes on an epic quest of revenge and along the way slits up a lot of people.

The action scenes are gruesomely gory and delightfully inventive, which is generally the way you want it with an over the top actioner. The cinematography is used well but never really threatens to take over for the special effects as the big technical detail.

The acting goes up and down. Danny Trejo and Michelle Rodriguez are doing the best job, adding some much needed weight to what amount to the two main characters. On the villains side, Jeffery Fahey is doing alright with what amounts to a side character and Robert De Niro does well with the screentime he has. On the other hand, while it's nice to see Jessica Alba looking like Jessica Alba, she still really can't act, and Steven Segal as a Mexican Samurai Drug Lord (really) sounds funny on paper, it doesn't work as well in practice, especially since he's gained a lot of weight. Special mention goes to Lindsay Lohan as a character who's amusing, but fundamentally useless to the plot.

What I find most interesting about the film, at least from an intellectual curiosity perspective, is that while it has an ultimate excuse to have no brain or deeper purpose about it (it's based on an in-joke from an in-joke), it actually does have a point, primarily based around the immigration debate and the racism associated with it. All of it is executed with the subtly of a chainsaw and none of it's stuff that's never been said, but in what amounts to an otherwise mindless action movie, it's nice to have some intellect included.

It's far from a perfect movie. Apart from the aforementioned lack of any subtly, there's also some major script issues which result in a good portion of the dialogue being JUST this side of terrible. Also in embracing the “Grindhouse” feel they apparently slacked off on the editing, ending up in some just plain bad cuts and edits. And finally, someone in the advertising department needs to get fired as the fact that Michelle Rodriguez has an eyepatch and therefore survives being shot in the eye is technically a spoiler. Also, Lindsay Lohan is only dressed as a nun, much less holding a gun for like...20 seconds. So play down that angle.

At the end of the day, Machete is good fun. It's not particularly groundbreaking but as I'm continually reminded not everything needs to be. Look, you should grab what you can. So far the only actioners that have been worth a damn this summer have been Inception, Iron Man 2 and Scott Pilgrim (and maybe The American but I haven't seen that yet) and we're currently staring down an American adaptation of a Swedish film that was one of the only worthwhile Vampire movie in years and a 20-years-later Wall Street sequel starring SHIA LEBOUF. At this rate, the only movie that'll be worth a damn between now and True Grit/Tron Legacy will be the DVD of The Promise (anyone who knows what I'm on about, you're AWESOME!). Oh well. See ya next time.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's staring to get pissed at Rodriguez for not getting on Sin City 2.

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