If the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino 2007 double-bill Grindhouse was a mixed bag, it did offer up one nugget: the ‘fake’ trailer for Machete.
Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo as a cleaver-wielding Mexican, double-crossed, left for dead and out for revenge… or as the voiceover put it: “He knows the score. He gets the women. And he kills the bad guys.”
Machete is no longer a coming attraction but a feature-length adventure in its own right, as Rodriguez (co-directing with long-term collaborator Ethan Maniquis) returns for his second stab at ’70s exploitation.
It’s clear that Machete will make good on the trailer’s promise that there will be blood – and lots of it. The prologue unfurls at breakneck speed, as Trejo’s Mexican Federale hacks off arms, legs and heads to get to pony-tailed drugs kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal), only to witness his own wife’s murder.
Utilising the grainy aesthetic and choppy editing of Grindhouse entry Planet Terror, it sets up the OTT style and irreverent tone with unerring confidence. Co-written with Rodriguez’s cousin Álvaro, the script credibly evolves a one-gag trailer into a viable actioner.
Moving on three years, the plot reintroduces Machete as an Austin city labourer. Hired by shady businessman Booth (Jeff Fahey, returning from the trailer) to assassinate a right-wing Texan senator (Robert De Niro), our friendly Mexican killing machine finds himself the victim of a set-up.
Forced to go on the run, Machete gets help from an underground revolutionary (Michelle Rodriguez), a kick-ass immigration agent (Jessica Alba) and a shotgunpumping padre (Cheech Marin, again reprising his trailer role) as he uncovers a plot to put an electric fence across the Tex-Mex border.
But for all its subtext about US immigration policy, Machete is clearly at its best in the violent bits. The scene where one luckless goon’s intestines are ‘repurposed’ is insanely warped genius.
Born to play the part, Trejo excels, delivering his lines (“Machete don’t text”) like he wields his weapon – with a cutting and deadly efficiency. But he’s not alone.
Steven Seagal and Don Johnson, who plays a bigoted sheriff, are also on form, while Lindsay Lohan’s cameo as a drug-addled harlot hacks terribly close to the bone.
True, it’s overlong and sometimes sags where it should soar. But if you’re after unadulterated midnight-movie fun: welcome back to the grindhouse.
Inventive, assured and absurdly entertaining, Rodriguez’s latest retro-exploitation movie is a gloriously gratuitous ride.