Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba zest ‘Machete’ action politics
By Anthony D’Alessandro
HollywoodNews.com: FILM REVIEW — If there was a classroom full of action directors, such as Michael Bay, Gore Verbinski and McG, Robert Rodriguez would be that rascal who would take them hostage, rap their knuckles with a ruler and stick their noses in a corner.
What would Rodriguez inculcate? How to make an efficient, hyper-kinetic edited, voluptuous action film, employing the most zealous dramatic ensemble.
To fault Rodriguez for his campy, snuff-inspired shoot-em ups would be like shortchanging John Woo’s talents for executing chopsocky ballet or Martin Scorsese’s overindulgence in Italian-Catholic symbolism.
Much like those guys whose cinema is beholden to their heritage, Rodriguez’s actioners, like a rich Sopaipilla drowned in honey, are drenched in sexy melodrama, exploitative action and South of the Border mythos.
So comes his Mexican Rambo film “Machete,” which he co-directed with his rhythmic editor Ethan Maniquis from “Grindhouse.” And while “Machete” is arguably the best action film of the summer, sniping “Salt” in its twists and kicking Adam McKay’s “The Other Guys” in the cajones with its comedy, the film wears its pro-Mexican Immigration message heavily on its sleeve — a bold agenda that is apt to divide action aficionados at the box office: Red state testosterones are apt to walk out while blue state arthouse crowds will savor the ride.
While the knife-wielding ex-Mexican Federale “Machete” is more or less a cinematic cousin to Rodriguez’s “Mariachi” and “Desperado” protag assassins (in fact Rodriguez originally conceived the character during the shoot of the latter film, not the “Grindhouse” faux trailer), it’s the film’s overt political soap box which makes “Machete” a more intelligible ride than its steel barrel predecessors. Sylvester Stallone’s pro-America speech at the end of “Rambo” seems mousy next to the social message which Rodriguez and Maniquis drum about U.S.-Mexico border corruption. The duo play out the drama effectively down to the final moment when Machete (the fierce, somber Danny Trejo) is pulled over by Jessica Alba’s ICE agent Sartana: Instead of handing her his papers, Sartana gives Machete a set of his own.
After watching his wife get beheaded by the drug lord Torrez (a hammy Steven Seagal) in an ambush sting, master of knives Machete retreats to Austin, Texas where he gets by as a day laborer. He is befriended there by Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) who by day serves Mexican transplants from her taco truck and in her off time masterminds the Network, a group of revolutionaries who protect undocumented Mexicans. Luz and the nearby workers are spied upon by Sartana who has the 411 on their comings and goings.
Making matters worse is a bad ass border patrol aka The Vigilantes led by Von (Don Johnson) and secretly supported by independent Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), a demagogue nut whose philosophy on immigration isn’t that far from Arizona’s.
Machete’s fate changes when he’s approached by a mysterious wealthy businessman, Booth (Jeff Fahey), to assassinate the controversial Senator for $150,000. Machete takes the job, but upon pointing his gun, notices that there’s a white rifleman who nicks the Senator; thus framing Machete, a Mexican, as the killer.
Immediately on the lam, Machete won’t stop his beheading spree until he’s reached Booth, who turns out to be a consigliere for McLaughlin. The assassination has upticked the Senator’s popularity while the media has vilified Machete.
Promising Sartana that he’ll deliver the true culprit, Machete obtains some help from his brother Padre (Cheech Marin), a zany Catholic priest who compiles folders on his sinful parishioners from the video confessions he hears.
As expected Rodriguez excels in his sharp choreographed action scenes, but what makes “Machete” less pedestrian than the next action title at the multiplex is its relentless plot twists, many which evolve from the faceoffs the director-scribe creates from pairing various actors off in his melting pot cast.
Above all, “Machete” is blatantly hysterical: Rodriguez doesn’t write a one-liner as an ironic tough-guy retort, which was common in Stallone and Schwarzenegger ‘80s fare, rather it’s strictly for laughs. After Machete puts his Federale partner in machine gun’s way in the beginning, the hero’s only response to his friend’s bloody body is “Lo Siento.” Not to mention, Rodriguez and Maniquis know how to play the funny in the movie’s nudie moments: one riotous scene being when Machete wages revenge against Booth by seducing his wife and his daughter April (Lindsay Lohan) in the pool.
The fact that Rodriguez is able to attract marquee talent who enjoy reveling in his prose, accentuates his pulp to a higher level. Trejo balances his softness with his cut-throat tone. De Niro is spot on as a corrupt southern Senator. Michelle Rodriguez, who has griped in recent interviews about being pigeonholed as the macho girl, should be content with her gift as there are few actresses who display such poise naturally. Jessica Alba delivers her gung-ho lines with the gravity of a beauty pageant contestant, but alas that’s what makes her situations silly.
Lindsay Lohan in her cameo plays an ironic take on her real-life persona as the drug-addicted, internet pin-up daughter of Booth. It’s no coincidence when she tells her dad “The online public wants me. Do you know how many hits my website gets?” Rodriguez/Maniquis lense Lohan gracefully in the violent climax as she absorbs herself in a nun’s attire but you wish there was more of her piercing presence onscreen. Obviously, Fox thinks otherwise due to her off screen shenanigans (She was cut out of the official trailer upon news that she was heading to jail).
One could fault Rodriguez and Maniquis’ flamboyant Z nature, but to do so would emasculate “Machete” of its greatness. Playing this film out in a more serious context would truly trigger a riot.
20th Century Fox release and presentation of an Overnight production in association with Troublemaker Studios. Produced by Robert Rodriguez, Elizabeth Avellan, Rick Schwartz. Executive producers Ashok Amritraj, Edward Borgerding, Alan Bernon, Myles Nestel. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis. Screenplay, Robert Rodriguez, Alvaro Rodriguez. MPAA Rating: R. Running Time: 104 minutes.
Machete – Danny Trejo
Senator McLaughlin – Robert De Niro
Sartana – Jessica Alba
Torrez – Steven Seagal
Luz – Michelle Rodriguez
Booth – Jeff Fahey
Padre – Cheech Marin
Von – Don Johnson
April – Lindsay Lohan
Photo Credit: Fox
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