You know, in a sick twisted way, I was looking forward to this moment. I knew when I started this project that I could binge all day on stuff I liked and write about that for a while. But eventually, through no fault of my own or through total fault of my own, I was gonna see a real clunker. I’ve already seen a few this movie season, but thankfully, I’ve been able to avoid writing about them. Then I went out tonight with Mel and saw Machete. While I had indeed awaited this day, quoth Switch from the Matrix, “Not like this.”
Not like this.
Machete is a movie from a lot of people I like and feel genuine fondness for. In that respect, it’s like Scott Pilgrim. However, what Scott Pilgrim had in its slavish devotion to a gimmick I found rather easy to adjust to within minutes and overall competent writing and pacing, Machete lacked. This movie is trying to be so bad it’s good. It averages out to so mediocre it’s not painful. While so okay it’s average might endear you to a few fans and might gain you some viewers, it lost me.
It’s easy to single out moments, scenes and parts of Machete that I wasn’t bored by. Danny Trejo as the titular day laborer/hitman spends a respectable portion of the movie kicking ass and taking names. “Respectable”? “Portion”? Mr. Rodriguez–can I call you Rob?–Rob, Rob. I love your work, really. Sin City was the first inkling I had of protagonist envy when seeing a movie. Planet Terror will always be the more fun half of Grindhouse. And you know, I love the idea of the Grindhouse imprint. Retraux exploitation movies with damaged film prints and schlocky action? That sounds great.
But Machete is a gratuitously violent boobfest without gratuitous violence or boobs. The first thing done wrong with this movie? Too many plots. I think it’s amazing that you managed to cock up a plot you summarized in a fake two minute trailer made three years ago this much. Machete is a Federale who gets double-crossed by Mexican Steven Seagal in a kick-ass action sequence where everyone bleeds CGI. First five minutes, 20 people die, exploding into CGI straight out of a bad student film. Then there’s a naked chick, who gets beheaded? Stabbed? I couldn’t tell. Then a woman who isn’t naked and looks quite nice also gets beheaded by Mexican Steven Seagal. That’s Machete’s wife. Just in case you missed that.
Whambam, Machete’s a day laborer. Cos that’s the premise, that’s why. Jessica Alba is looking at Michelle Rodriguez at a taco stand. Despite the fact that almost the entire cast and crew is Hispanic, they consistently talk of mythical female revolutionary Shee. It’s spelled Shé. Like Ché Guevara. Hispanic revolutionary. It’s a pun and an allusion, and you managed to cock that up too. Alba talks to Rodriguez. Tacos are served. You know why the conversation about language, dairy farming and neighbours in the opening of Inglourious Basterds was suspenseful, Rob? Because you knew the conversation was going to end in inevitable, messy and tragic death. Do you see the point in having two people who turn out to be protagonists butt heads? Well, I don’t, and it was your job to communicate that across the screen.
Machete is filled to the brim with people I don’t know whispering about things I could not care less about. The best of these is Cheech Marin. Let me tell you this, when your protagonist is being out-acted by half of Cheech & Chong? You have to step your game up. Even then, Cheech is just doing what he can with the mediocrity that’s been handed to him. He’s a gun-toting priest. If Hot Fuzz can get that right in two minutes, you should be able to do it in a movie. There are too many plots and not enough story. When Lindsay Lohan is shooting people dressed as a nun at the ending, it’s not triumphant or terrifying. It’s befuddling. Why is she doing that? I think she was hungover. Maybe she just hates Mexicans and rednecks with the same ferocity. I couldn’t care less.
This is supposed to be an exploitation film. The hero is supposed to be the most badass Mexican to ever walk the border. Part of a badass is dispatching mooks with efficiency, and I should say, Trejo has that part down pat. The other parts are what he does off the killing fields. Dispensing one-liners, getting in petty fights, laying more women I want to lay than I will ever lay. Sad to say, Cheech Marin gets more one-liners than Machete in Machete’s own movie. The one petty fight he gets in is pretty nice. I could’ve done for two or three more of those. And Machete indeed lands Mexican revolutionary Michelle Rodriguez and sexy D.E.A. agent Jessica Alba over the course of the movie.
Yet, in those scenes lies the problem with making an exploitation movie with mid-level celebrities instead of nobodys. The celebrities, ever concerned with dignity and being respected, never get their tits out. Ms. Alba, Ms. Rodriguez, you’re both lovely people. I respect you immensely. I also respect Kate Winslet, who’s had her kit off more often than the two of you, Lindsay Lohan and an amateur porn star combined. It’s an exploitation film. You signed on to play a woman who slept with a guy who looks like Danny Trejo and answers to Machete. I saw five breasts in the movie that I could put to a face. I don’t think I was supposed to see the fifth one.
Mr. Rodriguez, you’re making an exploitation film, but who are you exploiting? White people? Come off as quasi-sympathetic. Mexicans? They achieve about as much as Jews did in Shaft. Women? No tits. Men? No squibs. It’s an exploitation movie with all of the unpleasantness of hiring actresses for their willingness to go topless and writing witty dialogue for your hero removed. Your premise set its target as so bad it’s good, but you thought you could make a legitimately good movie out of it by shifting it towards “respectful” and “decent”.
It’s an exploitation movie. Those aren’t about respect, political correctness or CGI blood. They’re about squibs, bloodpacks, tits, racist slurs being used between minorities, taking down whitey and showing some pride in what you got from your mama. Like your proud Mexican culture. Or, god damn you, your tits. TWO STARS