fri 15/11/2019

Machete | reviews, news & interviews

Machete

Machete

New Robert Rodriguez movie is typically gory but strangely lacking in spirit

Bit-part actor Danny Trejo strikes a pose as the film's titular knife-wielding protagonist

It is not uncommon for opportunistic film-makers to put together a flashy promo in the hope it will attract enough investors to turn it into a full-length feature. When Robert Rodriguez made the Machete trailer for 2007 double-bill Grindhouse, though – an all-action spoof featuring striking bit-part actor Danny Trejo as its titular knife-wielding protagonist – he had no intention of taking this parodic in-joke any further.

Watch the original Machete trailer:

Three years on and countless fan entreaties later, Rodriguez has expanded that earlier gambit into a 104-minute opus whose “strong bloody violence” has seen it earn an 18 rating from those staunch moral guardians at the British Board of Film Classification. That much could be predicted from the outset. More surprising, perhaps, is Machete’s weird lack of spirit – a lassitude and inertia that suggests its makers saw it more of an arduous chore than a gleeful indulgence.

Since Quentin Tarantino hit the big time with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, many have tried to emulate his postmodern formula: a cocktail of wanton brutality, knowing pop-culture references and oddball, back-from-the-dead casting, laced with non-linear storytelling and a quotable, profanity-strewn verbosity. If Machete shows us anything, however, it is that it’s surely time to find a new template – preferably one that doesn’t come with an omnipresent smirk and the puerile sensibilities of a male adolescent.

Machete_Intl_MCH-DF-11892_R1The strange thing about Machete is how little it makes of its USP: the fact that its hero – a former Mexican law enforcer turned Texan day labourer – is Latino. Yes, there are plenty of passing references to his ethnicity. (“He’s FBI, CIA and DEA, all rolled into one mean burrito!” someone declares at one point.) Yet they are only in the service of reinforcing a non-specific, universal stereotype: that of a taciturn, indomitable hombre who kills without conscience, whatever soul he once possessed having been exorcised by a past tragedy (in his case, the murder of his family at the hands of Steven Seagal’s drug-cartel chief) for which he now seeks implacable vengeance.

It is a role that would suit an actor of any race, and one that makes only limited use of the muscular authenticity and pock-marked physiognomy (pictured above right) that have earned Trejo – an ex-convict and former drug addict – countless walk-ons as a Hollywood heavy. It’s a shame that what could have been a wholesale reinvention of the action genre ends up being just another repetitive derivation, one in which the very pressing issue of cross-border immigration gets insultingly short shrift.

Machete_Intl_MCH-DF-12381_R3One could derive comfort from the eye-catching supporting players were they not all singing from the same sleazy, malevolent hymn sheet. Robert De Niro is particularly guilty of phoning it in as a racist politician whose penchant for gunning down illegals for sport comes back to haunt him. Nor does Lindsay Lohan (pictured above left) do her career much good by trading off her wild-child image as a meth-taking bad girl, subsequently reinvented as a pistol-packing nun.

For a movie seemingly in thrall to testosterone and machismo, it is at least refreshing to see the fairer sex get their fair share of the mayhem. Indeed, were a spin-off effort to be built around either Jessica Alba’s resourceful immigrations officer or Michelle Rodriguez’s sassy freedom fighter, one suspects the result would make its progenitor look distinctly emasculated.

Watch the Machete trailer

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