Machete

My mother wouldn’t leave the house to go to the grocery store or run other errands without having cleaned up, put on makeup and wearing what she considered to be appropriate clothing. A visit to any Walmart will quickly show not everyone shares her view that you should always go into public looking clean and properly attired. While perfection wasn’t her goal, she did take pride in her appearance. Many movie makers are much the same way. They strive for realistic sets, clean looking shots, convincing special effects and razor-sharp editing, all in an effort to produce a seamless and flowing bit of entertainment; however, not all filmmakers share the need for clean and tidy movies. Director Robert Rodriguez actually goes to great lengths to make his films look cheap and dated, like in this week’s movie “Machete.”

Mexican federale Machete (Danny Trejo) is on a mission to bring down powerful drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal). While trying to save a witness who can testify against the cartel leader, Machete is attacked and severely injured by Torrez’ men, then forced to watch the execution of his wife and daughter. Machete recovers from the attack and winds up across the border in Texas, picking up day labor where he can. He often eats at a taco truck run by Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a woman who uses her position within the Hispanic community to set up The Network, a loose organization that helps illegals find work, get papers and try to make a life for themselves and their families. She is closely watched by Immigration Agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) who suspects Luz’ involvement with The Network. Luz is also fighting an anti-immigration vigilante named Von Jackson (Don Johnson) who, with a group of armed men, patrols the border killing any illegals they find. Jackson’s group is funded in part by Sen. McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) who often goes out on these hunts. Machete is approached by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) who wants Machete to kill Sen. McLaughlin because of his controversial stand against illegal immigrants. Booth says McLaughlin’s plan to deport illegal immigrants will hurt local businesses who depend on them for cheap labor. While looking through the scope of the assault rifle provided by Booth, Machete sees another man with a similar rifle who shoots Machete, then shoots the senator in the leg. Machete has been set up by Booth, who works for McLaughlin, to bolster the senator’s chances in the coming election and get more people to support his plans when he’s in office. Injured and on the run, Machete turns to Luz for help in contacting his brother, a priest known as the Padre (Cheech Marin) who is as good with a gun as he is with a blessing. Machete also gets some unlikely help from Agent Sartana and the drug-addicted daughter of Michael Booth, April (Lindsay Lohan).

“Machete” looks cheaply made. The opening sequence prior to the credits is scratched up and there are pops in the audio. The blood running down the face of a character looks more like chocolate sauce with some red dye added. The other special effects, which include explosions, gunshot damage and decapitated arms and heads, look homemade. The acting, camera movements and editing all look very dated. All of this is done on purpose to give the film the look of a gritty 1970’s action/crime drama. Rodriguez apparently loves this type of cinema and “Machete” is his mushy love letter to the kinds of films that used to fill theatres a few decades ago. Like his “Planet Terror” half of 2007’s “Grindhouse,” Rodriguez goes to great lengths to make “Machete” look just like one of these old films. Perhaps that’s why I was so willing to accept whatever happened on screen, despite the film having a rather silly premise and the characters doing things that, on their faces, didn’t seem to fit.

The movie also scores high on the kitsch factor with such 80’s stars as Don Johnson and Steven Seagal, and the presence of tabloid, courtroom and rehab fixture Lindsay Lohan. While none of these actors will receive much of a career boost from their roles in “Machete,” their appearances won’t hurt their futures either. It was nice seeing Seagal and Johnson playing against their usual hero types and wrapping themselves up in bad guy parts. Seagal seems to play every character exactly the same, whether he’s a vigilante cop, a drug lord or himself in his reality series on A&E. A scene near the end of the film almost feels like Seagal is aware of his critics and he plays up his weaknesses. Lohan isn’t given much to do as the drug-addled April. A sex scene with her, the actress who portrays her mother and Trejo, obviously uses a body double, so don’t get too excited about seeing Lohan naked. Johnson seems to relish his role as a self-appointed murderous border guard. Laying on a thick Texas drawl and sporting some decent mutton chop sideburns, Johnson looks like he’s having a ball as he claims his great-grandfather died at the Alamo and he won’t allow his beloved home state to be overrun by Mexicans. Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba play opposite ends of the tough chick spectrum. Rodriguez is harder and meaner, while Alba can be very feminine even when she’s fighting off an attacker. Trejo plays Machete as a kind of one-note anti-hero. The character rarely changes his emotion as Machete is always ready for whatever happens; whether he has to fight four armed thugs or make love to one or more beautiful women. Trejo may also have invented a new catch phrase which could be appearing on a t-shirt near you: Machete don’t text.

Despite the serious approach to the material, there’s a great deal of humor in “Machete.” Some of the laughs come from the over the top action (like using a line trimmer as a weapon or the numerous decapitations) and from the reactions of characters to various situations (like Marin’s foul-mouthed priest). Still more humor is generated by Trejo’s deadpan delivery of lines that aren’t funny, but generate laughs in context.

“Machete” is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity. There are lots of shootings, stabbings and various other methods of violence throughout the film. Some are played for laughs and most are so extreme they don’t have much emotional impact. The one sex scene is very brief with above the waist female nudity. We also see one other woman naked in the opening scene of the film. Foul language is common throughout.

While I’ve mention the humor in the film, what won’t make some people laugh is the movie’s story involving illegal immigration. Those who support the efforts of Arizona to crack down on illegals will not find much funny in the film. I think the framework of a hot-button issue is really just a metaphor for the corruption of the political system by big money and powerful special interests. Still, I’m certain anti-immigrant groups will use the movie as an example of how Hollywood is out of touch with the mainstream of American society and will cite it as a reason people on their mailing lists should send in a donation. That, I believe, might be an example of life giving them lemons, so they make lemonade.

“Machete” gets five guitars.

As we transition from the summer blockbuster season into the more serious fall movie season, the slate of films coming out gets a little thin. Only two new flicks hit area multiplexes, so I’m going to add a couple of films that have been out for a few weeks that I haven’t seen. Vote for the next movie you’d like to see me review below.

Resident Evil: Afterlife--Milla Jovovich returns as Alice, continuing her fight to survive in a world ravaged by a virus that turns its victims into the Undead.

The Virginity Hit--Four guys, one camera, and their experience chronicling an exhilarating and terrifying rite of passage: losing your virginity.

The American--George Clooney stars as a skilled assassin who lets his guard down when he retreats to the Italian countryside for one final assignment.

Takers--A notorious group of bank robbers find their plans for one last score thwarted by a hardened detective hell-bent on solving the case.

The Expendables--Sylvester Stallone leads a team of aging action heroes on a deadly mission to overthrow a ruthless South American dictator.

Stan’s Choice--Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

Have a question? Send it to stanthemovieman@att.net. Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.