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Machete Don't Text

Camp and carnage in Rodriguez' latest

by Molly Templeton

MACHETE: Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis. Written by Robert Rodriguez and Álvaro Rodriguez. Cinematography, Jimmy Lindsey. Editor, Rebecca Rodriguez. Music, John Debney. Starring Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Steven Seagal, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson and Lindsay Lohan. 20th Century Fox, 2010. R. 105 minutes. 4

Robert Rodriguez’ Machete starts early with the vintage soundtrack and the gushing blood — earlier than you might expect. Machete was once just a joke, one among a handful of mock trailers for imaginary movies that ran with Grindhouse. Now it’s a nearly two-hour action flick/exploitation throwback/revenge fantasy — if your mind tends to a certain kind of fantasy, anyway. 

Creatively violent (every gleaming corkscrew or discussion of the length of human intestines has its purpose), cheerfully cheesy and unfailingly persistent in its depiction of capitalist, racist white men as the worst bad guys, Machete is a mash-up of B-movie deliciousness and political timeliness. The two things don’t always hang perfectly together, but they work well enough for Rodriguez’ purposes, which include getting the deadly ex-Federale known as Machete (Danny Trejo) in the company of as many beautiful and/or naked women as possible (complete with corny porn music); getting shit to blow up real good; making a pathetic ass out of a corrupt, grinning senator (Robert De Niro) and his overly ambitious aide (Jeff Fahey); giving Cheech Marin a pair of shotguns; casting Lindsay Lohan as an often-naked twit who dreams of internet porn stardom; and providing viewers with a Michelle Rodriguez character who out-badasses all of her previous badass selves. Even tiny Jessica Alba, who gives the least inspirational rousing speech in recent memory, gets to do a bit of ass-kicking herself as an ICE agent who starts to suspect the law isn’t really serving the people it’s meant to. 

Machete, though it careens around a serious topic, is pretty much totally invested in not taking itself too seriously, which results in the creepy disconnect between the senator’s horrifying campaign videos (which made a few audience members laugh, one hopes uncomfortably) and the gushing blood that spurts from kneecaps, necks and other traumatized body parts. Rodriguez isn’t fucking around; Rodriguez is totally fucking around. Gory playfulness, purposefully one-note characters and do-the-right-thing sincerity all go hand in hand. The balance slips a few times, and the film tends to drag when nothing immediately exciting is going on, but Machete is sustained by the clear affection of the filmmaker for his cast, his absurd scenarios, his inventive ways to kill people and the space between camp and cleverness, which gets smeared with plenty of fake blood. Machete is ridiculous. Machete is awesome. Machete is not for everyone.