Director Robert Rodriguez
Stars Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro
Things You Might Like
- Blood, guts, and gore
- Over-the-top explosions
- Generous nudity
- Hammy acting
Things You Might Not Like
- See above
- Also, shaky premise
Gritty, overblown action flicks don’t get much better than this.
4 out of 5 Sharpened Blades
Jonathan David Lim
In my last review, I mentioned bad horror films of two varieties: the So Bad It’s Good, and the Just Fucking Terrible. That was a mistake. These varieties do not simply extend to bad horror films — they extend to ‘bad’ films in general.
What makes a film ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is (almost) entirely subjective, of course. There are a number of factors that lead into what can be considered ‘good cinema’, and listing them all would take up the entirety of this review. But I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say, if one is brought up on traditionally ‘good’ films by traditionally ‘good’ filmmakers (e.g. Kurosawa, Godard, Welles, Lang, et al.), then one’s definition of ‘good cinema’ is undoubtedly high. To such a person, there are no variations in bad films, there are simply bad films. To such a person, there are films made by Godard, and there are films made by everyone else.
But some people — such as yours truly — are not so stringent. While I do laud Kurosawa as the Greatest of All Filmmakers (so far, no film I have ever seen has outmatched the absolute power and sophistication of Seven Samurai), I have trained myself to watch films that can be considered traditionally ‘bad’ and enjoy them: those films that seek only to thrill, and leave little lasting impression apart from, ‘That was cool’. Robert Rodriguez is such a filmmaker. Famous for shooting his first film — El Mariachi — with only $7000 in his pocket, Rodriguez launched himself into stardom by making such traditionally ‘bad’ films. As an auteur, he seeks to have the audience marvel at the absurdities he concocts, as his many an action star dodges bullets, slices off limbs, and gets the girl(s).
Machete – both the film itself and the titular character — plays up to this in true ‘bad’ fashion. Played by Danny Trejo, who himself is an ex-con and one-time drug pusher (read: no acting required), Machete is a badass Federale with a penchant for knives, set on tracking down and exterminating Rogelio Torrez (Steven Seagal), a drug lord with a unique obsession with Japanese culture and swordsmanship. But when Machete’s mission fails, resulting in the death of his wife and daughter, he finds himself an illegal immigrant in Texas, sniffing out the long-gone-cold trail with little hope in sight.
He quickly meets and befriends Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a politically-minded taco van owner deeply embedded in The Network, an underground ring of revolutionaries fighting against unjust immigration laws. To complicate matters, Machete also befriends Immigration & Customs enforcement agent Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba), who is torn between doing her job, and doing what is right.
Machete is eventually hired by crooked businessman Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey, who is superlative in this role) to assassinate Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro, also superlative), whose main political platform is stricter immigration laws, including an electrified fence along the US-Mexico border. Behind the scenes, McLaughlin is also part of a vigilante group led by the militant Von Jackson (Don Johnson), whose method of anti-immigration is nothing short of murderous intent.
The film is highly politicised, portraying anti-illegals as anti-Mexican, while the illegal immigrants are shown as noble revolutionaries fighting for their cause. While the politics are a bit flimsy (such matters are never as black & white; or should I say white & brown?), that’s not what Rodriguez came here to do. Hearkening to the likes of John Woo and vintage B-movies, Machete is nothing more than an overblown action thriller. There are explosions, beheadings, plenty of bare breasts, and a brilliant moment where Machete disembowels a man and uses his unravelling intestines as a rope. It doesn’t get any better than that.
As a tribute piece to outrageous action films, Machete hits every mark. With his band Chingon, Rodriguez scores the film with cheesy bass-heavy licks and rocking muted guitar tracks, inserted wherever necessary, to give it the gritty ’70s vibe he craves. He even goes so far as to include film scratches and burns, a tradition set by friend Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill, and continued in their earlier Grindhouse duology (from whence Machete was birthed as a fake trailer shown between viewings of Planet Terror and Death Proof).
Of course, the acting is hamfisted (especially on Seagal’s part) and the plot thin at best, but it’s an enjoyable experience nevertheless. Machete isn’t just So Bad It’s Good — Machete is So Bad It’s Fucking Great. It may not have the sophistication I desire, but it’s got a lot of staying power. And besides, there’s nothing wrong with watching and enjoying a film where all you say at the end was, ‘That was cool‘.
Jonathan David Lim
Review by Jonathan David Lim, editor-in-chief.
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