Review: Machete

machete one sheetAfter having sat through the enjoyable but mind-numbingly violent Machete, I’ve come up with a new movie category: bloodbath porn. From the very first scene in this Robert Rodriguez homage to 70s action films, Machete has a body count that I can’t recall seeing an equal of since the Rambo series. Not into decapitation?  Then this probably isn’t the film for you.

Machete is played by scary-looking character actor Danny Trejo, whose entire career seems to be made up of playing tough Latino hoodlums, including the recent Rodriguez action thriller Predators (see my review of Predators). In this film, he’s a machete-wielding Federale who starts out trying to free a girl from evil druglord Torrez (Steven Seagal). He slaughters at least a dozen bad guys but is ultimately betrayed and left for dead after watching Torrez kill his wife in cold blood.
Three years later, it’s a Texas border town and the story changes to Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) running for re-election on a Draconian anti-immigration platform. His cynical media manipulation plan includes hiring a Mexican day laborer to hurt, but not kill him. It proceeds until they unwittingly tap Machete to play assassin. He decides to fight back against the system and predictable mayhem ensues.
Meanwhile, seemingly innocent taco-truck operator Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), secretly runs a sort of underground railroad for illegal aliens called “Operation Network”, while skeptical immigration officer Sartana (Jessica Alba) keeps a close eye on things while she tries to crack the secret group.
All the storyline is but an excuse to propel Machete from massacre to massacre, and some of the scenes are so silly that it’s hard not to laugh and just enjoy the mayhem. Bloodbath porn. Not your cup of tea?  Then you won’t like Machete and should skip it.


Machete was spawned from a fake movie trailer buried in the earlier Rodriguez (and Quentin Tarantino) film Grindhouse. The challenge was to turn an amusing 30-second spot into a 90 minute movie. Hardly an auspicious basis for a thoughtful film, but then again, Machete isn’t very thoughtful or deep.

And yet, buried in the bloodbath is an interesting story about an American politician who publicly rallies against something, while secretly tapping that same resource to help ensure his reelection. It’s very cynical, no question, but also quite believable. I won’t say more as it’s a major story element, but I’d like to see a more thoughtful director tackle the same story line.
machete publicity still

Jessica Alba and Danny Trejo in “Machete”

The casting of Machete is part of its charm, if I can call it that: many roles were clearly written for the actors who played them. McLaughin’s troublemaker daughter April was played by Lindsay Lohan, for example, and her first scene in the film has her strung out on crack and a complete wreck. In another nod to the 70s exploitation genre, Alba wasn’t a particularly believable INS officer, just a beautiful woman with a wardrobe that helped emphasize that.
Long-time collaborator Cheech Marin played Machete’s brother Padr, a priest whose parish church includes closed-circuit video monitoring and weapons stashed in a back room. The method in which Padr meets his demise was appalling, even for this jaded moviegoer and even for a film that I categorize as bloodbath porn. Be prepared.
There are lots of subtle sight gags in the film too, my favorite of which was Luz’s secret role as leader of Operation Network, with the figurehead of Shé. The posters, the art, and the name itself were a clear nod to Che Guevara, the Argentine guerilla fighter. And yet, no-one in the movie noticed the similarity. In another sight gag, one of the bad guys is burned to death, with a kitchen thermometer embedded in his eye (there’s a recurring theme of eye injuries). Zoom in and we see it’s showing the temperature is “extra crispy”.
I really liked the visual design of Machete and enjoyed the casting. The violence was generally acceptable for this type of film, but after a while I found myself numb and simultaneously amused and disgusted by the special effects. Would I recommend it?  Maybe if you’re into this sort of genre. But don’t be surprised by a half-baked story drowning in blood.

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