Friday, September 3, 2010
To anyone who ever criticizes movie critics for having a cushy gig, we now have a ready response: "Hey, at least you didn't have to sit through 'Machete'."
Robert Rodriguez' loopy, overlong and just plain boring "grindhouse" film is actually based on a fake trailer that appeared with "Grindhouse," the faux cheapie exploitation flick he and Quentin Tarantino made a few years ago. It featured a Mexican badass played by perennial sidekick Danny Trejo, who takes his name from the weapon of choice he uses to dice his enemies.
People were fairly indifferent to "Grindhouse," with many commenting that the previews for fake movies looked more entertaining than the one they were watching. Rodriguez, no dummy, took their advice to heart, and here we are.
Except for one thing: "Machete" is almost completely devoid of any entertainment value. It's trying to be a spoof of low-budget action movies, except it keeps forgetting to poke fun and becomes that which it mocked.
Trejo is an interesting choice as a protagonist. His face, an arid landscape of crags and canyons, is entirely watchable. But after a career of playing henchman and C-list villains, Trejo has never been called upon to use that great face of his to convey any range of emotion. It's a wall of non-communication.
I'm guessing Rodriguez directed Trejo to underplay in the long cinematic tradition of Men With No Name. But heck, even Charles Bronson showed a glimmer here and there. Trejo displays only two expressions: Contorted in rage, and preparing to contort.
He's also on the smallish side physically, and the reason Trejo has that wonderfully etched face of his is ... well, he's frackin' senior citizen! Trejo is 66 years old, and walks with the stiff ambling gait of a former bodybuilder whose muscles are drooping and weighing him down.
Rodriguez does his best to cut around his star's immobility during the action scenes, but it makes for some really dull hand-to-hand stuff -- which should be the best thing in the movie.
The plot is a screwy farce set to the backdrop of the illegal immigration problem. I'd call the movie's approach to this serious issue cartoonish, but that would be an insult ... to cartoons.
At one point, Jessica Alba, as an immigrations officer turned Machete sympathizer, rallies the day laborers to take up arms against their white oppressors: "We didn't cross the border! The border crossed us!"
Don Johnson plays the leader of an army of racist vigilantes who want to blow 'em all back across the border. Of course, they're secretly funded by a Mexican drug lord, played by Steven Seagal, doing an (I hope) intentionally bad accent. Their unwitting partner is Robert De Niro, playing a Texas state senator and anti-immigrant hardliner. In the opening sequence, the senator gleefully shoots a Mexican couple sneaking across the border for sport.
Machete is a former Mexican drug enforcement agent who had his wife and daughter killed by the druglord. He's now hiding out in the U.S. as a day laborer. He meets up with Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who's the head of the local underground railroad for illegal immigrants.
The action scenes are surprisingly infrequent, and at 105 minutes the movie feels about a half-hour too long.
There's occasionally an inspired moment of over-the-top blood-letting -- such as Machete slicing open a man's chest, grabbing his intestines, and then using them as a rope to jump out a window and swing down to the next floor. This, of course, happens right after a doctor has helpfully told us that the human intestine is 60 feet long.
Jeff Fahey plays the senator's right-hand man, and Cheech Marin shows up as Machete's priest brother, who doesn't let his holy vows interfere with his prowess with a shotgun. Lindsay Lohan plays Fahey's daughter, a budding Internet porn star who arrives at the film's climax decked out in a nun's habit and a machine gun. I'd say her career has arrived right about where it should have.
Look, I'm all for tongue-in-cheek exploitation -- if there's a drive-in showing "Return of the Living Dead," sign me up -- but this movie isn't nearly as much fun as it seems to think it is.