Sure, the story's choppy, but . . .
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, September 3, 2010
The title of the movie "Machete," a surprisingly funny sendup of action-movies that began as a fake trailer in "Grindhouse," refers to two things. On one level, it alludes to the simple curved blade traditionally used to chop through sugar cane or clear dense undergrowth. It's also the nickname of the man whose ninja-like skill with the tool -- put into service in ways strictly unrelated to agriculture -- has earned him almost mythic status as a Mexican cop.
As capital-m Machete, Danny Trejo makes a ferocious first impression. In the film's opening few minutes, he and his small-m friend are shown severing the heads of three drug-cartel goons with a single sweeping stroke. The whistle of metal, the fountain-like spurts of blood and the tumbling of body parts set the tone for the rest of the movie, whose violence is so absurdly over the top as to be comical. The triple decapitation also offers the first hint that the machete that gives the film its reason for being is not the man but his metal blade.
"This is the boss," Machete says, flourishing his weapon of choice in front of an underling. He's not kidding either, although the line, like much of the rest of the movie, gets a big chuckle.
Go ahead, it's okay to laugh. The movie, co-directed by Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids," "Sin City") and his longtime editor, Ethan Maniquis, is one big, fat comic book. In fact, it's better all around if you can laugh at it, assuming you're able to see humor in such sequences as the one in which Machete disembowels a man and uses his intestines as a rope to rappel down a building.
Yes, it's like that. Other bits that get a giggle are the casting of action-icon Steven Seagal as a Mexican drug lord and Robert De Niro as a murderously xenophobic U.S. senator whose abortive assassination Machete is framed for, setting the bloody, ridiculous plot in motion.
You read that right. The Academy Award winner -- De Niro, not Seagal -- tears into the part of Texas Sen. John McLaughlin with all the relish and finesse of a starving man given a burrito. He has great, messy fun playing a corrupt politician whose aide (Jeff Fahey) arranges for him to be shot at in order to stir up anti-Mexican sentiment, and get him reelected. So, for that matter, does Cheech Marin as a foul-mouthed, gun-toting priest. He's Machete's brother. What did you expect?
But just wait until you see Lindsay Lohan. Playing a campier, trampier version of herself -- or at least her tabloid image -- she at one point gets to dress up as a nun and shoot people. Don't ask. It's complicated (not to mention fairly random). For much of the rest of her "performance," she's naked.
Is nothing sacred? Well, no. Although Rodriguez, who wrote the script with his cousin ?lvaro Rodriguez, uses the story to skewer the current anti-immigrant hysteria, "Machete" is less interested in politics than in a kind of lowbrow poetry that impales notions of propriety, good taste and action movies on the tip of Machete's blade. If he's an epic hero, he's a dumb one, and not especially noble. One running joke concerns Machete's irresistible sex appeal. He gets it on with every woman in the movie: Jessica Alba's U.S. customs officer, Michelle Rodriguez's smuggler of undocumented immigrants, even Lohan's skanky character (and her equally skanky mother). It's funny because Trejo has the face of a mushroom, all scars and wrinkles.
Despite broad satire about racism and border fences that will appeal to some liberals, the movie doesn't line up neatly along party lines -- except in that other sense of the word "party." It's a movie that just wants to have fun.
To a large degree, it succeeds. As "Machete" ends, an on-screen title pops up, reading: "Machete will return in 'Machete Kills' . . . and 'Machete Kills Again.' " It's tongue in cheek, of course. The promise of two sequels, let alone one, seems like, well, overkill. But whether or not our hero does come back to turn more of his enemies into carnitas, one thing's for certain: As they say in the stand-up comedy business, this guy slays.
Contains lavish violence, obscenity, nudity, sensuality and drug content. In English and Spanish with subtitles.