Mucho Machete

Machete first made an appearance in a fake trailer for Grindhouse. the overwrought homage to 1970s schlock by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Now, the eponymous hero is back in a flick of his own, and you soon find out how he got his name.

Machete is a Mexican policeman who is betrayed by his own men in the pay of a drug kingpin (Steven Seagal). He manages to escape to Texas, where he lives off the grid. Hired to assassinate an immigrant-baiting politician played by Robert De Niro, Machete plays along in order to foil the plot. But it’s a set up---Machete is the one who gets shot and finds himself on the run from various thugs including his old nemesis, and a straight-laced Latina FBI agent (Jessica Alba). Needless to say, his weapon of choice is a huge machete, and he slices and dices his way to a climactic duel with a samurai sword-wielding Seagal.

His tongue firmly in cheek, Rodriguez (who co-directs with Ethan Maniquis) has great fun, and you will too. The main attraction is Machete himself, played by the awesome Danny Trejo, with wild tattoos, hair down to his waist, and a face as rugged as the Sonora desert. You soon lose count of the bad guys he chops up and the beautiful women he tirelessly beds down, not just Alba but an equally stunning Michele Rodriguez as a Tania-like taco vendor, and the bizarrely cast Lindsay Lohan, who appears in a nun’s habit with a six-shooter.

It’s so funny that you almost don’t notice the biting social satire between the laughs and Grindhouse parody. Mexico is portrayed as brutal and corrupt, yet the U.S. is no better. The scheming politicians on this side of the border are no better than the drug dealers on the other. The American rednecks who hunt down immigrants are no worse than the Mexican cops on the take. In Machete’s warped universe, they’re all “illegal aliens.”

Rodriguez’ cinematic career has followed an unusual arc. He made his debut in 1992 with El Mariachi, an action film which the University of Texas graduate financed by submitting himself to medical tests. Despite a budget of $7000, it impressed studio executives enough to bankroll two sequels, Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, followed by the corny yet lucrative Spy Kids series. If Rodriguez has yet to find critical success, he has a loyal following that can’t get enough of the ultraviolent yet campy style that won him Tarantino’s admiration. Fine Latino actors like Trejo, Rodriguez, and Cheech Marin (who plays Machete’s brother) have appeared in several of his movies, almost a Rodriguez repertory company. Will he ever grow up? Hopefully not…Rodriguez seems content to continue making movies his way.

As for Machete, he roars off into the sunset on a huge chopper, but that may not be the last of him. Another fake trailer announces that he’ll return in Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again. I, for one, can’t wait.

Eric Garcia