Machete (2010)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 9/3/10
Directed By: Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez
Written By: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan, Cheryl Chin, Daryl Sabara, Tom Savini, Mayra Leal, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan

Wow... Inspired brilliance from Robert Rodriguez that manages to hit all of my sweet spots. It's like he has a direct link to my subconscious, which is quite frankly rather creepy. Arguably the best part of "Grindhouse" (2007) was the fake trailer for "Machete," which played to audiences so well that Rodriguez decided to deliver a full length mexploitation film based on Danny Trejo's bad-ass character. Who would have ever dreamed that Danny Trejo would land a leading role with Robert De Niro as a supporting character? It boggles the mind.

The plot of "Machete" is fairly incidental and harkens back to the glorious days of 1970's action cinema. Trejo is a Mexican Federal agent known as "Machete," who goes against a powerful drug lord named Torrez (Steven Seagal). Machete's family is murdered as a result, and he manages to escape to Texas where he tries to reclaim his shattered life. He attracts the attention of a shady businessman named Booth (Jeff Fahey) who hires him to kill a bigoted Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), but he's really just a fall guy for Booth's sinister agenda. The rest of the film has Machete teaming up with immigration officer Sartana (Jessica Alba) and Mexican revolutionary Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) to uncover the truth and get revenge against those who wronged him.

While the film is far from perfect, it goes out of its way to please, and its over-the-top mayhem is delightfully entertaining. Unfortunately, the film can't sustain the explosive nature of its premise for a full ninety minutes, and the pacing suffers as a result of the narrative. While Danny Trejo is a great character, he's not a particularly great actor, and it's difficult for him to carry an entire film. However, I think everyone realizes this, and that's part of the fun. Super hot Jessica Alba and bad-ass Michelle Rodriguez deliver exceptionally strong and solid performances, and are quite easy on the eye as well. De Niro, Fahey, and Don Johnson turn in wonderfully campy performances as detestable bad guys, and Steven Seagal as a Mexican drug lord is downright loopy. Lindsay Lohan gives a shrewdly self-lampooning performance as a drugged out wanna-be porn star, and steals a couple of surprisingly decadent scenes.

The film looks great for the most part and the action scenes are frantic and hard hitting, as is Rodriguez's style. With so much goodness going on in the film, it's easy to nit-pick things that are less than perfect. Like the awful shoes that the Avellan sisters wear during their otherwise awesome ambulance assault. There are also a handful of shockingly bad visual effects, but I suppose that's part of the film's charm, and they go by so quickly that you don't have much time to dwell on them. Much like Michael Jai White's "Black Dynamite" (2009), the film works much better as an homage to 70's cinema than it does as a parody, and the forced attempts at humor fall flat. The film pretty much comes apart right at the end when it stops taking itself seriously and focuses on being silly instead. Perhaps Rodriguez wanted to lighten the tone and go for something more campy, but it broke my suspension of disbelief and dropped me back into reality. Additionally, the film's two epilogues are completely unnecessary and spoil the good will that the rest of the film built up. Another disappointment is the final showdown between Trejo and Seagal. I was expecting a lot more from someone with Seagal's talent and experience, and you never actually see the two of them cross blades. This could have been an fantastic fight, but it ends up looking like a typically awful Hollywood fight scene.

Still, for its numerous warts, it's a fabulously entertaining film with some truly memorable female action scenes. While Alba doesn't get a chance to shine as a kick-ass fighter, her conviction, strength, and powerful delivery are extremely impressive. Michelle Rodriguez is utterly amazing, and even though I knew it was coming, her climactic entrance actually made me burst into tears. This is some powerful stuff that reflects exactly what I want to do in my own work. Very inspiring and depressing at the same time. This is the path I started to take twenty years ago, but never had the courage to follow through. Is it too late for me?