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'Machete' a fun return to the grindhouse

Article Published: Sep. 9, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Machete' a fun return to the grindhouse

Danny Trejo is Machete in Machete.

Machete is exactly what you'd expect from a full-length feature based on a faux B-movie trailer - gleefully over the top, unabashedly graphic, and fun as hell.

Not to mention it stars veteran character actor Danny Trejo, an unflinching intimidator with a face like a chainsaw sculpture, in his first major starring role.

But there's more: A cast of A- and B-listers that can barely fit in 105 minutes, coupled with grainy film, intentional bumps in continuity, and gratuitous everything - violence, blood, nudity and Lindsay Lohan.

Based on the phony trailer sandwiched between the '70s-style exploitation flicks in the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino 2007 double feature, Grindhouse, Machete is arguably the film most Grindhouse fans wanted to see, some more so than its original features, Planet Terror and Death Proof.

Why is that? Well, there's a machete-wielding Trejo and a shotgun-toting Cheech Marin (playing a priest, no less) teaming up against a smarmy Jeff Fahey for starters.

That, and Machete exemplifies the exploitation film - overstatement at its seediest. In this case, it's a wronged Mexican day-laborer seeking bloody justice - graphic and crass, but done with Rodriguez's unmistakable style and knowing sense of humor. And, of course, there's that tagline: "They just ****** with the wrong Mexican."

And the wrong Mexican is Machete (Danny Trejo, Predators), a government federale whose straight-and-narrow, excessively violent war on crime leads to the brutal execution of his wife and child before his own eyes, and at the hand of drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal, Under Siege, that's right).

Left for dead, Machete (named so for his weapon of choice) escapes and immigrates to America, working as a day laborer and biding his time. There, he encounters Luz (Michelle Rodriguez, Avatar), the leader of an underground railroad for Mexican immigrants, who runs her operation under the guise of a taco stand, and INS Agent Sartana (Jessica Alba, Sin City), who's out to expose the network.

To boot, Luz's efforts are shot down - literally - by vigilante border guard Tillman (Don Johnson, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man) with extreme prejudice.

Prepared to aid Luz in her endeavor, Machete is interrupted by the shady Mr. Booth (Jeff Fahey, TV's Lost), offering him employment. Rather than septic or gardening work, Booth hires Machete to assassinate a corrupt state senator (Robert De Niro, The Godfather: Part II) seeking to radically, and sadistically, tighten the laws on illegal immigration.

Offered $150,000 and his life, Machete reluctantly accepts. But no sooner can he pull the trigger than he's double-crossed by his employer, shot and left for dead - again. Rescued by Luz and her underground network, Machete realizes there's more to the betrayal than meets the eye, including the involvement of arch-enemy Torrez.

Needless to say, this doesn't bode well with our hero, who, with the help of his brother-turned priest (Cheech Marin, Up in Smoke) takes up his blade(s) to exact bloody vengeance on the wrongdoers.

For a full-length feature, Machete shares the exact same quality and atmosphere of its three-minute predecessor, a seemingly cheap film that's anything but. Rodriguez, who co-directed the film with Ethan Maniquis, went through painstaking lengths to achieve its unique look, something distinctively '70s but set in modern times.

Try not to laugh at Machete's take on text messaging, "Machete don't text," the obvious lack in continuity between shots of Booth's Mercedes-Benz, the "Introducing Don Johnson" title in the opening credit sequence, or an armada of low-riders on the war path.

Oh, and Lindsay Lohan (Mean Girls) as the drug- and sex-addled daughter of the villainous Booth.

Beyond the obvious Lohan jokes, Machete's casting is spot on, with Trejo assuming the role of the Charles Bronson-esque hero who never cracks a smile. Fahey is as superb as his character is sleazy, and De Niro obviously has a blast as Sen. McLaughlin.

The dialogue is the cheesiest of cheese ("We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us!"), the violence more over than top than a Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling movie, and the nudity more gratuitous than a late-night Skinemax feature. There's nothing subtle about it, including a rather cutting commentary on burgeoning anti-immigration sentiment.

But the most blatant aspect is Rodriguez's love of cinema. It's a skilled filmmaker's celebration of a genre, a film for his fans, and a welcome return to the grindhouse.

Machete, rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

Trejo Trivia: Machete marks Danny Trejo's fifth time playing the titular character, the first being Spy Kids, Spy Kids 2, Spy Kids 3 and the faux Machete trailer in Grindhouse.

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