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:: Machete

Twenty years in the making, Robert Rodriguez’s ‘Mexploitation’ film, Machete, found an audience as a fake trailer, part of the Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature Grindhouse in 2007. Reportedly, Rodriguez was continually asked by fans, ‘When are you going to make Machete?’ Well, now their prayers have been answered.

In the excessively gory opening sequence, Machete (Danny Trejo), an incorruptible Mexican federale, goes head-to-head with the drug-lord, Torrez (Steven Seagal). After witnessing his wife’s decapitation (and hearing of his daughter’s murder), Machete is left for dead by Torrez, to burn in his own fiery inferno. However, Machete manages to escape to Texas where a new web of corruption awaits. After being set up as a political assassin, Machete works at clearing his name where he forms an unlikely alliance with Sartana (Jessica Alba), a hard-working immigrations officer whose ideals are slowly being chewed up by the broken system she serves. With numerous other allies, Machete seems destined to lead the revolution against the political powerhouse who set him up in a bid to take a more aggressive approach towards immigration. Naturally, Torrez is in the mix and the final showdown between the two is a given.

Exploitative and self-reflexive, Machete is a film detached from the real world, operating in its own movie reality where it pertains to its own rules, politics and logic. Rodriguez’s world is one where the actors do not so much become their characters, but where the characters exist as vessels to carry the performer’s off-screen reputations that precede them. They are stars first, characters second. And Rodriguez uses this to great effect: an off-the-rails daughter to whom making internet porn and being rescued from meth-labs is not unusual, would not have been half as funny if she was not played by Lindsay Lohan. Nor would the pot-smoking, shotgun-wielding Catholic priest get so boisterous a laugh were it not Cheech Marin (of Cheech and Chong fame) wearing the collar. It is a playful film that has evolved from a history of cinema, more than a history of reality. Highly self-conscious and made by a passionate film buff, Machete is Rodriguez’s Kill Bill. Violent, blood-soaked, revenge-driven fun.

However, somewhere between phones coming out of vaginas and ab-sailing with intestines, the fun becomes too ridiculous, the movie world a little too detached where some – only some – of the lines seem forced, used to set up certain stunts. While nurses with uzis, nuns with magnums, even chain guns on motor bikes are all acceptable, there still exists a line, and, at times, it is crossed, if only briefly. Yet amidst the exploitative and gratuitous murder, sex and mayhem, there is a political message that does offer some grounding for the film; preventing it from destratifying completely into a realm of films referencing films, movies modelling movies where reality dwindles into self-perpetuating filmic oblivion. While exaggerated, the film does offer a sharp comment on US immigration laws that gives it added depth and a link to contemporary culture.

But at the end of the day, the film is about entertainment. And this sense of entertainment and fun radiates from the actors. The film is hammy and cheeky, and the actors carry this into their performances. Whether it be Robert De Niro’s right-wing Texan Senator McLaughlin, Lohan’s privelaged April, Seagal’s samurai-sword-wielding, super bad-guy Torrez, or Jeff Fahey’s relentlessly profit-driven, closet paedophile Booth, the cast are actors at play. They revel in a world of irony, parodying socio-political reality, their on-screen personae and their off-screen lives. Also worth mentioning, of course, is Danny Trejo, who after starring in over 160 films as a notable character actor, is finally given a leading role: a mythological Mexican hero, none the less, with an affinity for knives and more one-liners than Schwarzneggar. The character Machete is both homage to strong, silent action archetypes and a resurrection of Rodriguez’s own, ever-evolving Mexican hero (born in his El Mariachi trilogy). It was also refreshing to see that even within the film’s exploitative framework where the leading female characters (Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez) are highly sexualised, they are also strong, independent, ballsy characters that Rodriguez uses in an attempt to redefine the Latino female in cinema. So while the film may retreat into its own movie-world, it does have something to contribute to the medium, and something to say about our society.

Machete is another adolescent wet-dream from the director of the El Mariachi trilogy and Sin City, and like its predecessors, it is a tongue-in-cheek action feast with entertainment high on its menu (aimed at those with a strong stomach). It may not satisfy everyone’s palate, but if you like your films fun, sexy, bloody and cheesy, it doesn’t get much better than this.