Day four of the September Exploitation Extravaganza
D. Robert Rodriguiz & Ethan Maniquis
20th Century Fox/ Troublemaker Studios
This long awaited feature film version of the fake trailer that premiered in the front of PLANET TERROR has finally hit the screens. Without a doubt it has lived up to the hype and was worth waiting for. What Rodriguiz and company have done here is create a loving homage to exploitation movies of the past while grafting it all into a very relevant political satire of current events that literally takes no prisoners. The satire is about as subtle as a frying pan to the face, but in this day and age of media saturation and 24 hour sound bites making all surrounding countries feel like they are breeding terrorists like cockroaches, subtle satire can hardly get through the noise. Some might accuse the movie of being a call to arms for the treatment of Immigrants in America, illegal or otherwise, and well, they very well could be right. Maybe some people need that kind f kick to wake up.
The rather complex (one might actually say convoluted) plot deals with our hero Machete (the great Danny Trejo) (I love that we get a glance at his birth records at one point and that is actually his real name!) who is double crossed working as a Federale busting evil crime lord Torrez (Steven Seagal in his best role in years and only villain role ever). Torrez viciously murders Machete’s family, ruins his job and leaves him for dead. Cut to several years later and Machete is now working the border as a day laborer just trying to make ends meet. At the border a lady named She’ -like Che' get it?- (Michelle Rodreguiz looking like she is spending hours in the gym) is running a Taco stand that is a front for a secret network that is helping Illegals get into America and get settled, find work, and get green cards. Sartana -Just like the famous Spanish gunslinger - (Jessica Alba) plays an young FBI Agent watching everyone at this border stop trying to make that big bust that will help her career.
Meanwhile (oh yes there is a LOT of meanwhile!) Lt. Stillman (Don Johnson) has created a redneck Militia that is building up his own border patrols who think nothing of hunting down and murdering any and everyone they catch trying to cross into the States and video taping it for sport and later use. While on one late night sporting expedition we meet Senator John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro) who is building his re-election campaign based almost solely on the the Illegal immigration issue and his scare tactics involving the border. His speeches and campaign videos are unfortunately not that far from reality as he compares Illegal immigrants to maggots and vermin that are infecting America and need to be exterminated.
Enter Jeff Fahey who hires Machete to kill Senator McLaughlin for a hefty sum. Citing that his border plans will destroy his business in trade. But he double crosses Machete having him shot, and his own man wound the Senator so the public see Machete trying to take the shot. So now the public has seen a Mexican trying to kill the Senator, thus pushing home the idea that the Mexicans are trying to wage a war on the Senator and thus America.
That’s where all the fun begins. From this point on the movie is nearly non-stop action set piece after another, with the violence levels turned up to the almost absurd (well past it in some cases). For a large portion of the movie the bad guys have no idea who they are dealing with, so they just barge in where ever Machete is at, never expecting he can pick up anything with a blade and make steak tar tar out of them. Highlights including a Hospital shakedown where Machete has improvised weapons using autopsy tools and a nurses sash, or a cork skew and cooking thermometer can be put to reckless use. But we are talking about a movie that has at least a half dozen decapitations in the first five minutes, so to keep the pace the movie has to continually up the ante and for the most part it does.
In fact if not the for over the top sense of humor this might be one of the most brutal and violent studio movies ever released and could be unrelentingly grim. Crucifixions, decapitations, gutting, evisceration, faces chopped open, multiple shootings, limps hacked off, the list goes on and on. But the sense of humor is as sharp as the blades, keeping it all from being overwhelming. Hilarious moments such as the infomercial for Tom Savini’s Hit Man service are laugh out loud funny.
But at the movie’s core there is a lot of anger couched in the satire, spoof and lots of on screen fun. When Jessica Alba’s character screams out “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!!!” it is hard not to feel a strong resonance there. One voice that is almost never heard when this whole immigration debate is riled up is that of those who are in the thick of it. Those day laborers, those who have given their lives to come to the USA in spite of all odds. There are two sides to the debate, and naturally laws in place, but when people are being taken advantage of on both sides of the border AND being made to look like disease carrying vermin or being painted to be terrorists, there is bound to be a large amount of anger and frustration among those people. That anger is very loud and clear in MACHETE .
In that way it is the perfect exploitation film. It serves up all the exploitable elements into a heady, undeniably entertaining stew. It is action packed, violent and sexy. But, not even at the core or under the surface, but right there in your face, it is raw, angry and political about an important issue too. The greatest exploitation films of the golden era, (SWEET SWEETBACK’S BADASSS SONG springs to mind off the top of my head, or any number of the anti establishment Vietnam era films like EASY RIDER) were like this. These are the films that become lamp posts of the times they were made in. Films that end up standing the test of time, that in twenty years they still have weight. When the big budget soulless junk have faded, these little exploitation movies still have meaning because they had the balls to tackle topics relevant to their core audiences. When they do it right, they are kick ass movies on top of it.
MACHETE gets it right on all counts.
Review © Andy Copp