exploitation film' and it's about as vague as you can get in describing a genre as a whole. So how to describe them? Basically any movie made on the cheap -- to a point at least -- that appeals to a mass audience. This is not The Godfather or Lawrence of Arabia. These films through the 1960s and 1970s can be amazingly bad to watch (in a good way), and influenced directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, both modern day directors who have done their own exploitation films, including Rodriguez's 2010's Machete.
It's been three years since ex-Federale, Machete (Danny Trejo), was betrayed by his boss, saw his wife and daughter killed and was left for dead. Now working as a day laborer in Texas, Machete is approached by the mysterious Booth (Jeff Fahey) who offers him $150,000 to assassinate Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), currently running for re-election. Machete agrees and takes the money, but he is double-crossed during the attempt. It was all a set-up, and McLaughlin was in on it to boost his re-election effort. Severely wounded and on the run, Machete is on his own, but he's looking for answers. You can follow his trail by the mangled bodies he's going to leave behind.
As a director, Rodriguez shot to fame with his ultra-low budget El Mariachi and kept climbing with Desperado, From Dusk Til Dawn and the Spy Kids series (I suppose on that last one). He already did a tribute to exploitation with Sin City and Grindhouse, but thanks to the fictional trailers from Grindhouse, he had the potential for this film. I understand the appeal of the genre; no pretensions about sex, violence, sex, drugs, sex, whatever. I love low-budget schlock, and all those touches are there. The grainy film, that distinct low-budget look, the ridiculous story, all there for us to enjoy. But the problem for me was obvious. You make an exploitation film and do it. Made for a little over $10 million, something just ain't right here.
The only thing I can figure? Instead of just being an exploitation flick, it comes across as a spoof. It has its moments, especially Trejo's stone-faced one-liners and reactions, including my favorite, "Machete don't text." Rodriguez just tries too hard to make those films he grew up on and loved. How many different ways can you see a machete decapitate, cripple, mangle and generally destroy a human being? I lost count, but the effort was surely made here. It's supposed to be cartoonish violence, but it ends up looking laughable. I don't know if it was just poorly done CGI or what, but the final product is bad. Low brow is one thing (and can certainly be a positive), but when Machete jumps out a window and uses a man's intestines as a bungee cord, I knew I was in trouble.
A veteran of 150-plus flicks, Danny Trejo doesn't disappoint as the titular character. He basically expresses no emotion, doesn't crack a smile and is required to look tough and be a badass who dispatches nameless henchmen in creative ways with a machete....oh, and usually saying a cheesy one-liner while doing it. That's all. Trejo nails the part. Give Rodriguez credit. The man can put a cast together. De Niro hams it up as McLaughlin with Fahey being a gravelly-voiced scene stealer as Booth, the senator's aide. In the eye candy department, we've got Jessica Alba (can't act, semi-nude scene), Michelle Rodriguez (can act, no nude scene), and Lindsay Lohan (can't act, topless). In the flashback department, we've got an enormous-looking Steven Seagal as a Mexican drug lord and Don Johnson as a vigilante "protecting" the U.S./Mexico border. Rodriguez favorite Cheech Marin is another scene-stealer as Padre, Machete's shotgun-toting brother who happens to be a priest. Also look for Shea Whigham as Booth's inept henchman.
The story that revolves around Machete's revenge efforts include De Niro's Senator, Seagal's drug lord, Johnson's border vigilante, and an evil conspiracy to control the border to curtail illegal immigrants coming into America. I'm all sorts of democratic, but I don't want any message shoved in my face in a movie named 'Machete.' The whole angle, the angelic underground network helping people across and the dastardly evil big business, gets to be too much in a movie that had a whole lot of too much for me.
Look, I get it. This isn't a movie meant to be over-analyzed and critiqued within an inch of its life. It's about seeing Machete bed down every woman he meets (almost), about twin nurses in short skirts firing machine guns, about a tricked-out, machine gun packed motorcycle, countless decapitations, perfectly slimy bad guys, topless Lindsay Lohan, and all that beautiful low-brow humor and violence that most films just can't get away with. I just didn't like it. Exploitation is one thing, but I can't get over the fact that it plays far too much like a spoof. I of course might be alone in this sentiment. The sequel, Machete Kills, is due in theaters next summer.
Machete <---trailer (2010): * 1/2 /****