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Movie Review: 'Machete' could use a trim

Robert Rodriguez's action flick loses its mayhem-filled edge well before the finish.

September 03, 2010|By Michael Phillips, Tribune Newspapers critic

I'm talkin' 'bout Machete! He's the federale who's a sex machine to all the chicks, and no friend of the racist whitefolk out to mess with all the murderous, blade-flashing attitude for which he stands.

The character, played by the authentic tough guy and character actor Danny Trejo, was introduced in a fake trailer, part of the 2007 Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double bill known as "Grindhouse." Now Rodriguez and Trejo have delivered the movie to go with the trailer. It's outlandishly gory and bluntly political, the latter being more interesting than the former. It wears out its welcome, though, long before la revolución, and sequels are promised.

"Machete" pits undocumented workers and their protectors against reactionary, bloodthirsty vigilantes and their sleazy political allies. Robert De Niro plays the Texas state senator running his campaign on a "roll back the illegals, electrify the border fence" platform. Michelle Rodriguez, the best thing going here, portrays the taco-truck owner who's running a secret network for her fellow border-crossers.

Don't get me wrong: Robert Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis (a longtime Rodriguez colleague) waste no time with sober discussion of U.S. immigration policy or a serious investigation into the matter of Jessica Alba and why she never seems to get any better as an actress. (She plays an immigrations officer trying to crack the underground network.)

When Machete is hired to take out the De Niro character, he's set up (this was all in the original trailer) and hunted like a dog, but he hunts back and eventually must rain carnage down upon most of Texas, including the Minutemen-type weasels ( Don Johnson plays Mr. Big). The real Mr. Big, or rather Señor Grande, is pulling all the strings and selling all the drugs and always seems to have floozies lounging around his pool. He is played by Steven Seagal, which explains why Seagal wasn't in "The Expendables," although it doesn't explain how Seagal ended up with Eddie Munster's hair.

At 105 minutes, "Machete" is at least half an hour too long for its own good. It would've worked better at that length as one-half of "Grindhouse," certainly better than Rodriguez's own "Planet Terror" did. The beheadings and behandings and eye-gougings and stiletto-heel-in-the-craniums are diverting for a while. If Robert Rodriguez ever learns to move his camera around in interesting ways, rather than editing a bunch of static, indistinctly framed shots together for effect, his willingness to try anything — and here, anyway, actually say something, albeit in a completely adolescent fashion — may lead to more compelling escapism than this.

mjphillips@tribune.com

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