Mexican Federale Machete (Trejo), a stone-faced killing machine named after his weapon of choice, flees to the United States after he is betrayed by his bosses. Coerced into an assassination attempt on a corrupt US Senator (De Niro), he finds himself on the run again and falls in with an underground cabal of militant illegal immigrants led by the feisty Luz (Rodriguez).
Ever since the fake trailer for Machete popped up in the Grindhouse intermission two years ago, those among us with a taste for hardcore schlock and jumbo-size edged weapons (which is all of us, right?) have been waiting with bated breath for the real article to arrive.Well, arrive it has and, except in the moments of laugh-out-loud mayhem, it is, unlike its titular tool, surprisingly dull.
Of course, it’s an unalloyed joy to see Danny Trejo in the first and, let’s be honest, probably the last leading role of his distinguished career (with an $11 million opening, prospects for Machete II are not looking good right now), and the Machete character, a humongously pissed-off ex-Federale with vengeance in his heart and three feet of cold steel in his hand, is an inspired creation. But the film itself is a mess, bogged down in racial politics, government corruption and the plight of illegal immigrants when it should be getting its Mexploitation on and ramping up the carnage. It should have been simple — a by-the-book revenge flick with top-drawer T&A and Danny Trejo carving up the bad guys with his great big metal phal… knife. Instead, Rodriguez blows it the same way he did with Planet Terror (his Grindhouse contribution) by making it needlessly complicated. And while you might admire his championing the downtrodden, duly noting that true exploitation cinema traditionally tackled inflammatory social issues, particularly racism, it’s such an overtly dominant theme here that it throws a worthy, wet poncho over everything. Faux exploitation and real politics, it seems, don’t mix.
Not that it’s all bad — how could it be? And the opening sequence, a riot of limb-hacking hyper-violence in which a naked woman produces a cellphone from somewhere rather less hygienic than a belt holster, certainly gets your attention. Michelle Rodriguez is terrific as a hellcat freedom fighter, sticking it to The Man from a kerb-side taco truck, as is Jessica Alba as a tough-cookie ICE agent in stripper heels and jeans she stole from a baby giraffe. The inevitable Cheech Marin is on fine, hammy form as a pot-smoking priest and Jeff Fahey exudes creepy menace as a sinister businessman with serious daughter issues. Cameos from Don Johnson and Steven Seagal (schooling even Fahey in creepy menace) don’t hurt either, and if Lindsay Lohan provides little more than eye candy, at least she provides a lot of it.
Trejo, naturally, is awesome, and cast-wise only De Niro, delivering another ineffably blah performance as an evil US Senator, lets the side down. The action sequences, when they arrive, are as audacious and brilliantly staged as we’ve come to expect from Rodriguez. But there’s just too much going on — botched assassinations, frame-ups, double-crosses, murderous vigilantes, underground militia, a hint of incest… Which all sounds a lot more fun than it is; a chronic case of the whole being very much less than the sum of its parts.
You could say it’s (almost) worth the price of admission to hear Trejo deliver the line “Machete don’t text”, invoking his name with full-on three-syllable, mean-hombre relish. But sadly, on this evidence, Machete don’t quite cut it either.
This is not the down-and-dirty homage to 70s sex and violence promised by its pre-emptive trailer or only sporadically so. The cast work hard Trejo oozes bad-ass charisma and the film has some outrageously enjoyable set-pieces, but overall, the con