September 3, 2010

Review: They Call Him 'Machete'

One of the highlights from Grindhouse, the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino double feature, was the fake trailer (below) for a "Mexploitation" movie that did not exist, starring Rodriguez's cousin Danny Trejo as a bad ass vigilante fighting against corruption with his namesake weapon of choice. Unfortunately, the feature length version of Machete fails to live up to all the fun of the original trailer and premise.

Machete, co-directed by Rodriguez and his usual editor Ethan Maniquis, should have been much more enjoyable. Instead, we get a film packed with way too much plot and so many uninteresting side characters not named Machete.

Too many elements are needlessly shoehorned into the film without serving anything in particular. Trejo's craggy face says it all, but for a movie called Machete, Machete is not in the film nearly as much as he should be. His scenes of sheer bad ass-ery are not nearly plentiful enough. The experience feels like a a funny five minute Saturday Night Live sketch stretched into a nearly two hour movie. Beyond the kick ass beginning, the movie loses momentum and the joke stops being funny with over an hour left to (literally) beat the punchline to death.

Far too many characters are packed into the overlong epic. Lindsay Lohan, who spends most of the film naked, is inexplicably crammed into the film for no reason. Her character could and should have been completely excised as she is wholly uninteresting on screen. I could not tell if Jessica Alba was acting bad on purpose or not in order to fit into the grindhouse style. Whatever she goes for, she falls flat next to the deadly serious Trejo.

Jeff Fahey (Planet Terror) reprising his evil boss role from the trailer does a great job being ultra evil for the sake of being evil. Don Johnson gets it and does well with what he is given as a racist vigilante. Steven Seagal does a satisfying job as the big baddie, a Mexican drug lord, but is kind of wasted. Robert De Niro puts on an amusing Texas accent, hamming it up as a corrupt state senator and gets lost in the overcrowded cast, never getting to shine. There are deluge of other side characters that are wasted. Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar) as a bad ass avenger along with Trejo, who lights it up in any scene he is kicking ass in and not talking, are under served by the scripting and overblown cast.

Machete did not offer enough consistent fun and entertainment to justify itself and its run time. It is bloated and messy instead of lean and straightforward. Machete has a convoluted plot and momentum that does not allow for enough of the mindless action it promises. Too much stunt casting gets in the way of the characters we like. At 105 minutes, it feels much longer and too long by at least 20 minutes.

The immigration theme is battered into the plot without any finesse to qualify as satire. With an abundance of lame sight gags that fall flat, the humour often plays awkwardly unlike another exploitation film, Black Dynamite, which handled the humour and tone with much better attention to detail. Piranha 3D was much better at both being a part of and pointing fun at the B-movie gene. Rodriguez's own Planet Terror is also a far better effort with its over the top theatrics and thin plot.

Ultimately, Machete does not live up to the promise of the original fake trailer. It becomes another cheesy action movie instead of subverting itself in order to exploit genre filmmaking for fun thrills and cheap laughs. All the elements were there to take the original premise and extend it into a over the top thrill ride. However, it misses the mark as somewhere along the line, the whole act wears thin.

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