Machete (2010) - REVISITED! My original thoughts on Machete were blogged after seeing this film in the theater, and are pretty basic, I didn't want to give too much plot away. Now though I think it is time to revisit this film. Stop complaining you have had two years to see this film so while I am spoiling it, just sit there and shut up. If you want to stop reading right here and go see it that would save you knowing all the details. This film is a wild adventure of a man pushed from his life, who has lost everything he loved. He sees an injustice he can fixed, though doing it by agreeing to assassinate someone is a real jump out of being righteous. When his attempt is revealed to be a setup, he must run and survive until he can bring closure to the situation and his past pain. It is a revenge film that is over the top in violence, the bad characters are evil and ugly making Machete's action seem justified. With a strong political message it turned off many right leaning folks but hey, can't please everyone.
The first thing that had to be done in this film is to establish the main character as one bad assed mother fucker and create the central struggle of the revenge part of the film. Machete (Danny Trejo) is a Mexican Federale and a damn good one. He and his partner drive towards the hideout of some kidnappers and discuss the wisdom of attempting a rescue. The girl in the house was to be a witness in a case against Mob leader Rogelio Torrez (Steven Segal) and Machete's partner would prefer they did not go in. In fact a call from Machete's Chief (Alejandro Antonio) can not stop him. As he barrels into gunfire and then directly into the side of the building. No less than three machine guns are blasting away in this first action and remarkably Machete is unscathed while his partner is riddled with bullets. This establishes the fantasy of the film, it is not a realistic walk through the life of a Federale but a hyper-violent hero story where if you are close to the main character your chances of survival are much less than his. At this point you can stop saying, "Oh that would not happen that way! Impossible!" No it is now establish that this is a fantasy story and all your notions of what could happen in reality should be put away
Machete leaves the vehicle unharmed and begins his walk through the hideout looking for the girl and easily killing any gangster he comes in contact with. Humor is established by having Machete hack the hand of a gun toting thug and then using the gun hand still attached on the next gangster to enter the room. He then looks at the gun and his blade and tosses the gun away as the least effect weapon choice. He is the skilled warrior and like in so many samurai films of the seventies all who come against him perish quickly. The scene where men enter from three separate doorways to surround him only to have a spinning Machete behead them all takes his prowess to a new level.
Furthering the fantasy elements of the film happens with the finding of the girl, Chica (Mayra Leal). She is sprawled nude on a bed, light dimming the room through the red curtains. Seventies porn music starts in what can only be seen as comical as the sultry vixen attempts to seduce her rescuer. Not only is he to be seen as a bad ass but as a figure of sexual desire. The contradiction between the hard rough looks of Trejo and the response of the beautiful naked girl creates an almost comical juxtaposition. She can't be on the level can she? When he picks her up and throws her over his shoulder his manhood is established completely. So when she double crosses him and stabs him with his own machete in the leg it turns back to the expected reaction to the man. Then, why this scene exists I can not explain, but the Chica pulls a phone from the only place a nude woman would hide it, and calls in Torrez. The sound effect for this was more than a little squirm inducing.
All of the opening has been an elaborate setup by Torrez with the help of Machete's boss, the chief because Machete will not be bought out. As he lays on the floor wincing from his leg wound Torrez and the Chief enter to confront the only straight cop left on the force. Offered one last chance Machete balks, and then the reason for revenge. Torrez brings out Machete's wife and beheads her, and then with all the menace that Segal with his horrible acting ability can muster asks Machete something to the effect of 'Is your little daughter at school? I don't think so." Then he orders the place burned down with Machete in it. Segal probably the weakest link in this film is the baddest of bad guys. A drug dealing murderer who has no tolerance for not getting his way. Unfortunately or fortunately his character is barely developed into anything resembling real menace. He mostly is the guy on the other end of the call as he works through his partners on the US side of the border and really in the end when he faces off with Machete it is a bit disappointing. Still though Machete seems doomed and has lost his family to this monster so lets reconvene three years later in Texas.
Machete is working as a day laborer, hanging by the taco truck waiting for a pickup from a local business to come by and choose him for a day's work. How he survived is never explained but considering what an amazing bad ass he is, you could imagine a path of corpses in his wake. The film starts to establish some of the politics of the story. Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) not only sells food from her taco truck but is secretly head of a secret organization called the Network. A loose connection of illegal and legal immigrants who help immigrants cross the border, settle them and get them papers so they can work. Basically trying to do the service that the immigration service does for immigrants who are not from the south and Spanish speaking. She sees the world as exploitative of the illegals who gather for work, on one hand the Americans complain about the illegals but on the other they have no problem exploiting them for cheap labor. In fact many border businesses rely on the low cost of illegal immigration to maximize profit. In the reality of this movie the immigrant is both disdained and desired. Luz is particularly worried about militant terrorist groups that have sprung up to self patrol the border to stop illegal immigration. They are violent and not being controlled by the government. What are they spending their time doing? Well apparently trying to uncover the Network. We join immigration agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) in her car as she watches and makes notes about Luz and her suspicions about the Network. She is the contrast to Luz, a Latina trying to stop illegal immigration of her own people. Alba was not the best fit for the role either, too damn beautiful for my male mind to buy as a tough cop, she does not pull off hard ass well enough to make the role a winner.
We then get to see the bad guys with a scene on the border following a group of illegals. The scene opens at night on the border. A group of illegals are making their way into the country when they are surprised by the lights of a vehicle. They are stopped by a border vigilante group lead by Von (Don Johnson) and including Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). Wounding a child and having his pregnant Mother in his sights Von gives his speech about his motives, "I know anybody born here is a citizen just like you and me. I know people will call us vigilantes when its just about vigilance. Somebody has got to keep watch on this great nation of ours, otherwise Texas will become Mexico again..." He then shoots dead the pregnant woman. The response to this comes from State Senator who agrees and kills the kid. The way over the top portrayal is further evidence that the film is intended as a hyper violent fantasy. The vigilantes are the lowest of beings, arrogant in the accident of birth into this country, lacking morals, decency and being the perfect villains for Machete.
To further the audiences understanding of how bad the State Senator is we see one of his campaign ad. In it he refers to illegal immigrants as parasite, who are sickening the country, leaching off our system and killing the country from the inside. He calls for an electric fence covering the entire border and no amnesty. Considering that, in real life, there are active border patrols by citizens who believe their policy for the border should supersede the government. That they are actively trying to get a wall and no amnesty for illegals, you can understand that having their ideas co opted by these particularly murderous bad guys can be upsetting to them. They do not see themselves as the same as these characters and probably did not get that this is a fiction where the bad guys are exaggerations in order to build empathy for the main character and his cause.
There are two main plots that develop in the film. The first is a man on the run story featuring Machete and the second is a subplot where the Network and the vigilantes are moving towards a war. Machete is recruited by McLaughlin's assistant Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) to kill the Senator, or at least that is what he tells Machete. In reality he wants to set him up as the fall guy in a plot that includes wounding McLaughlin so he can get sympathy and also so he can establish that the illegals are dangerous. All this to further his anti immigrant agenda, but Booth had no idea who he was hiring and it is only through his conversations with Torrez that he realizes he picked a dangerous man. When Machete escapes the setup he is on the run, a wanted man but one who can fight back.
There are some memorable scenes between the start of the chase and the final battle between the Network and Von's group. Machete wounded is brought to a Network hospital, as Booth's henchmen close in we here the doctors verbose explanation about the length of the human intestine, only to have the main character use one as a rope as he dives from a window to avoid death. Hilarious!
- There is also a corkscrew kill that is something else.
- A reference to "Cheech and Chong" when Machete visits his brother a priest (Cheech Marin) and makes reference to cigars, as Cubans and then Mexican where he shows large joints like in his old comedy bits.
- In the final battle the hopping suspension on the low rider that hops up and comes down on a vigilante's head. Wow!
- Lindsay Lohan in a nun outfit delivering a kill line.
- The twins from Grindhouse as nurses in the network arriving at the final battle with uzis.
- Torrez's silly unnecessary death speech.
In the end the first plot merges into the secondary story of Luz getting ready to do battle with Von and his vigilantes. Never well defined the Von threat is really not that great but it allows the writers to make statements about immigration policy through the characters. Alba gets to come around to seeing it through the eyes of Luz and actually has the wonderfully ridiculous line "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us." ridiculous in delivery not in sentiment.
Machete who ends up with the Network brings them to Von's hideout in a low rider parade that is absolutely outrageous. Stereotype and parody it is a sight to behold. See when people are getting upset about the film you have to know this is a fantasy through and through. It is a wild ride that takes things to the extreme and really all you can say to them is fucking lighten up. In the end the Good guys win, Luz and the Network defeat the evil vigilantes, Machete gets his revenge on Torrez, Sartana comes to see the light and becomes part of the network, Booth and McLaughlin meet their ends as it seems they deserve. Mc Laughlin in particular gets an ironic end that has to be seen.
Machete Kill the sequel is do out next year and I am sure will go even further. The cast including Charlie Sheen Amber Heard, Mel Gibson, Venessa Hudgens, Sofia Vergara, Edward James Olmos, Cuba Gooding Jr, and Lady Gaga looks to be pushing the envelope even further. So I can't wait for that. Now for rating the film.... I really liked the movie and enjoyed it through and through. Still on a second viewing some of the acting was not as good as I remembered although Jeff Fahey was just great. So I think my grade comes down a bit to a more reasonable number for this hyper violent fantasy romp.
Rating (7.6) 5.0 and up are recommended, some films just more recommended than others.