Review of Machete

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Danny Trejo stars as the title character, an ex-Federale who clashes with a Mexican drug lord (Steven Seagal) and flees to Texas to work as a day laborer. Then he's tasked with assassinating an anti-immigration US senator (Robert De Niro), but right before he takes his shot, realizes he's been set up. After going on the lam, Machete vows revenge against those responsible for betraying him. Also starring Cheech Marin, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, and Lindsay Lohan.
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Movie Review: "Machete"

-- Rating: R
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: September 3, 2010
Genre: Action/Thriller

Based on a two-minute trailer sandwiched in the middle of "Grindhouse," Robert Rodriguez's "Machete" is a surprisingly fun bit of exploitation cinema. Combining Rodriguez's B-movie excess with the grainy aesthetic found in his own "Planet Terror," "Machete" manages to entertain, while at the same time, it provides a not-so-subtle commentary on America's immigration policy. With Rodriguez staples, such as Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba and Cheech Marin starring alongside Robert DeNiro, Lindsay Lohan and Steven Seagal, this is an exciting film that is both funny and violent.

The film pushes the audience into the middle of Mexican Federale Machete's (Trejo) search for a missing girl. After the rescue mission goes terribly awry and his partner is killed, Machete discovers that his wife and daughter have also been murdered at the hands of Rogelio Torrez (Seagal). Left to die in the desert of Northern Mexico, Machete wanders into Texas, where he spends his time finding odd jobs to survive.

After three years of living the life of a nomad, Machete comes across Michael Booth, who offers him $150,000 to kill anti-immigration Senator McLaughlin (DeNiro). Faced with death for refusing the offer, Machete goes ahead with the assassination plot, only to be double-crossed and blamed for being behind a pro-immigrant conspiracy to eliminate McLaughlin. Upon realizing he's been betrayed, Machete searches for a way to take revenge on those who have done him wrong, all while being followed by Special Agent Santana Rivers (Alba).

"Machete" is deeply rooted in the cheesy exploitation films of the 70s. From the mediocre acting to the outlandish fights and weaponry, Rodriguez revels in this form of down and dirty cinema, taking the audience through the unseemly while daring them to root for the downtrodden. Filled with racial and gender stereotypes, a healthy dose of sex and violence and a large amount of tongue-in-cheek humor, "Machete" stands as the perfect mixture of pulp violence that Rodriguez has been perfecting since his critically acclaimed debut "El Mariachi."

Known for his "one-man film crew" style, Rodriguez has made a living off of creating entertaining B-level films. He's become a master of cheap cinema, something that has likened him to critically acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino. However, where Tarantino has the chops to transcend the trash cinema he loves, Rodriguez directs films that are in line with those from his youth. With "Machete," he attempts to introduce some social commentary on America's immigration policy, but it's unsubtle and used as a plot device rather than a searing indictment. For most directors, this would be a negative, but for Rodriguez, it's a compliment. Few moviegoers want to see a Robert Rodriguez movie for a thesis on immigration. Instead, they go for the thrills and excitement that has been a part of his bag of tricks since the 90s, when films like "From Dusk 'til Dawn" and "Desperado" made him a household name.

While Rodriguez is the brains behind the film, Danny Trejo is its heart and soul. Known for his parts in a number of action films, Trejo plays the role of Machete with gusto. Even though he's not the most adept actor, his natural charisma has always allowed him to shine in whatever film he appears. Here, he shines in the lead role, taking the time to add a bit of gruff nuance to an otherwise one-dimensional character. His charisma offers the audience the perfect protagonist to follow through this sordid tale of revenge.

As for the rest of the cast, "Machete" features a who's who of Rodriguez regulars and well-known stars. Robert DeNiro is the most prestigious actor to appear in the film, but those looking for the DeNiro of the 70s should continue their search elsewhere. He chews the scenery as McLaughlin, a choice that fits in with "Machete's" overall feel, but still feels like a step down when looking at his body of work. Jessica Alba is fine as Santana, refining her B-level acting chops as she makes an appearance in her third Robert Rodriguez film. Playing the villain for once, Steven Seagal mixes it up with Trejo, providing the perfect foil for Machete. Seagal plays on his tough lawman image, creating an interesting character that stands in stark contrast to the rest of his film roles.

"Machete" is an entertaining action film that should appeal to lovers of exploitation cinema. Rodriguez knows how to make great, cheap escapist fun, and "Machete" is the latest of his films to offer audiences an hour and a half of action. With two sequels planned, titled "Machete Kills" and "Machete Kills Again," it will be interesting to see if Rodriguez can take what began as a two-minute joke trailer and turn it into an exciting trilogy.

Rating: 3 out of 5