A cut above the rest



By Colin Walsh

“Machete” begins where the fake “Grindhouse” trailer that spawned it left off: as a grisly joke on, or homage to, the B-movie horror genre. Heads roll and blood splatters only a few frames in, but thankfully director Robert Rodriguez recognized that in order to sustain the effect, “Machete” had to become a real movie at one point and stop being the joke that willed itself into a full length motion picture. This is not only a legitimate film, but a surprisingly good film.

With the ridiculous opening scene complete, we are rushed into an action movie with a hint of political satire on immigration laws. Hardcore anti-immigration supporters wouldn’t be too happy but I doubt they will be buying tickets to “Machete” to begin with.

Machete (Danny Trejo) is a former Mexican Federale who was too dedicated to upholding the law to look the other way on some shady business involving his boss, and is now living in Texas as an illegal immigrant. Meanwhile, the state is clamping down on immigration. Incumbent Senator John McLaughlin (Robert Di Nero) is up for re-election and runs a campaign ad likening illegal immigrants to pests that need to be exterminated. Oh how he drops in the polls.

That’s where his campaign manager comes in. Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), unaware of Machete’s true identity as a hard-to-kill ex-Federale, picks him up on the side of the road and offers him a shot of tequila and $150,000 to assassinate the Senator during a public appearance. Although Machete is set up, a gunman awaits to kill Machete and wound the Senator. With headlines reading “Illegal Immigrant Implicated in Assassination Attempt on Senator” he’s a surefire bet for re-election.

The evil senator wants to build an electrified fence along the border, and his shady campaign supporters want him to build that fence to control the flow of drugs and people for their own monetary gain. The good guys are known as “The Network,” led by the tough-as-nails do-gooder, Luz (Michele Rodriguez). The Network helps people get across the border and find jobs. Opposing Luz and the Network is, for our viewing pleasure, immigrations officer Sartana (Jessica Alba): a character who is torn between her job and the love of her people.

Machete hooks up with Rodriguez and Alba along his blood trial to expose the bad guy. He’s on the run and he’s going all out, which is what makes a good action movie. It’s pure fun with a lot of eye candy and laughs.

What I like about this film is that Rodriguez doesn’t pull any punches. He knows what we’re expecting from “Machete” and he delivers. As an audience we never strain to follow anything, and nothing is forced to the extent where we question its purpose. There a hint of political satire here, but it always feels refreshingly watered down and never preachy. Maybe it’s the fact that nothing can feel high-brow within ten minutes of having seen a Trejo rappel out of a hospital window using a grown man’s intestines.

A great chunk of the movie’s effectiveness is due to Trejo’s appearance and charisma. Like Arnold in his Terminator heyday, Trejo embodies his character so well that he need not say much or do much for us to be aware of his presence. And when he does say something it is twice as memorable and can be very funny.

Another noteworthy aspect of “Machete” is the use of its cast, particularly Lindsay Lohan. Proving to us that she has a sense of humor, Lohan plays April, the drug addict low-life daughter of campaign man, Booth. I’m usually not a fan of topical humor, but seeing Lohan being dragged out of a crack house amused me as much as it did the rest of the audience. One could argue that toward the end of the film, however, Lohan is overused when she stops playing a literal joke on her train-wreck of a life and tries to act. Cheech Martin is also here for a brief stint, playing a shotgun wielding priest. Again, a perfect use of the cast.

Once we take it all in, “Machete” may be the most effective action movie of the year, and is easily Rodriguez’s finest to date. It’s an uproarious 105 minutes, and an action packed end to the summer.  “Machete” gets 3 1/2 stars.