“Right, I’m a bigot, I know. But for the left,” cracked Woody Allen in Annie Hall. Likewise, Robert Rodriguez’s Machete—which makes good on the nonpromises of Grindhouse’s third-best fake trailer—is a big, dumb, questionable vigilante picture, but with a firm anti-anti-immigration stance. (One teaser even boasted a “special message for Arizona.”) Or is that actually its liability? Being on the correct side of an issue is nice and all, but it cuts down severely on long, rusty blades splitting heads in half like a watermelon.
Rodriguez frontloads the super-gore, particularly in a tease of a killer opening and a hospital escape cribbed from Riki-Oh. As in the trailer, Machete (Danny Trejo) is an ex-Federale badass double-crossed by the men who hired him to snipe an incumbent senator. Unlike in the trailer, the senator is played by Robert De Niro (marginally awake) who wants to erect an electrified border fence.
Also new are the three thousand other elements Rodriguez has crammed in: a turncoat immigrations officer-cum-love interest (Jessica Alba); a taco-truck chick (Michelle Rodriguez) who may or may not be a Che-modeled leader; Lindsay Lohan as a skanky rich girl with a shitty dad; and Machete’s arch-nemesis, a Mexican drug lord played by Steven Seagal, as plump and lifeless as an animatronic Madame Tussaud’s doll operating at half speed. It leaves little room for our knife-wielding vigilante, and sure enough, about halfway through, Machete largely disappears from the movie bearing his name. Perhaps saving him up for the two (two!) promised sequels?
Rodriguez is this generation’s Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, Q)—a cut-rate visionary with terrific ideas but lacking the sense to pass them to someone with more talent and/or money. As usual, he lets his many plots get tied up in knots, finally forming them into a tract on illegal immigration that’s too blunt, too humorless and only passably nutty. Machete can’t decide if it wants to be Coffy or The Spook Who Sat by the Door (the notorious blaxploitation in which black nationalists successfully take down the Man), and so comes off under-baked.
As it so often is, the trailer is better than the movie.
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