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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Machete (review)

Class Warrior

Remember that crazy funny fake trailer for the nonexistent 70s Mexploitation flick Machete that preceded the Planet Terror segment of Grindhouse a few years back? Gonzo indie filmmaker Robert Rodriguez whipped up that two-and-a-half-minute bit of ultraviolent fluff, and then he kept whipping, and now it’s a two-hour, crazy-funny-violent Mexploitation feature that couldn’t be more terrifyingly timely. I can’t wait for the right-wing windbags to begin decrying Rodriguez and Machete — oh noes! he’s trying to ignite a class war! As if class warfare hasn’t been the status quo, coming from the other direction, for decades.

Oh yes, there is revolutionary rage in Machete, and Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly and the “we’re not racist, honestly” Tea Partiers are right to be afraid that this not-so-silly silly movie may touch a nerve among audiences. And not just among Hispanic moviegoers, either. Yeah, it’s delightful to see so many Hispanic faces onscreen here — I can’t remember the last mainstream movie that featured so many Latinos in all the major good-guy roles, including not one but, miraculously, two women! — but the crafty point is also made that plenty of folks whom Arizona cops wouldn’t be moved to demand papers of are also pissed off about the anti-immigrant, close-the-borders hysteria currently gripping the U.S. Rodriguez — a Mexican-American who lives and works in Austin and surely has been confronting this bullshit all his life — has smartly made a movie that welcomes anyone angered by injustice and a lack of compassion without having to sacrifice the lovely nonwhite cast of his, you know, cast.

Well, except: the bad guys are all white (which will surely give Glenn Beck something else to howl about, because bad guys are never white, doncha know). Even the Mexican bad guy, a notorious and psychopathic druglord called Torrez, who is hilariously played by hilarious white boy Steven Seagal, displaying more of a sense of humor about himself than I had ever imagined he possessed. But the class warfare, as depicted by Rodriguez (Shorts, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D) as cordirector — with longtime collaborator (in editing and FX) Ethan Maniquis — and coscreenwriter — with Álvaro Rodríguez — isn’t about race or borders, or even about legality: it’s about power and money and heartlessness versus poverty and desperation and humanity.

So here we have former Mexican federale Machete (Danny Trejo: Predators, Battle for Terra), who ran north of the border to escape Torrez’s wrath after the cop dared to try to take the druglord down… and after Torrez killed Machete’s family. Texas is a place where good ol’ boy Stillman (Don Johnson: When in Rome), who fancies himself a lieutenant in a vigilante border-protection scheme, and state senate candidate McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro [Everybody’s Fine, Righteous Kill], his Texas accent coming and going, as befits the craven carpetbagger opportunist he is) pick off pregnant Mexican women sneaking into Texas in the middle of the night: gots to stop those anchor babies from being born. McLaughlin is running on an “immigrants are cockroaches” platform, but a mysterious white businessman, Booth (Jeff Fahey: Planet Terror) needs to ensure that McLaughlin doesn’t win, because Texas thrives on illegal labor and that can’t change.

Whew. Politicians, businessmen, druglords: they’re all the same greedy slime here. Furtively fighting them are Luz (Michelle Rodriguez: Avatar, Fast & Furious), who operates a taco truck that keeps day laborers in coffee and tacos, which is also a front for the Network, a sort of Underground Railroad helping illegals set themselves up in the U.S. And there’s Sartana (Jessica Alba: Valentine’s Day, The Love Guru), an American ICE agent who goes over to the other side. And Padr (Cheech Marin: Race to Witch Mountain, Cars), a Catholic priest who’s more of an activist of the old school than we usually think of from the Church today — there’s a refreshing nothing-sacred attitude to Machete, which is exactly the kind of eccentricity that this kind of movie demands, and gets exactly right. And there’s Machete, of course, who is hired by Booth to assassinate McLaughlin but finds himself in even deeper hot water than he anticipated.

For all the over-the-top bloodshed — Machete really enjoys using his machete, though he’s not averse to surgical blades, automatic weapons, or really anything that will kill racist, power-hungry men in a nasty way — Machete is only half tongue-in-cheek. It’s all very much in the spirit of 70s blaxploitation films, and fueled by the same anger and the same yearning for fairness and sympathy. It’s certainly one of the most humanist movies ever to feature such a high body count. Lots of folks will be interested in talking about Lindsay Lohan’s mostly naked appearance here as Booth’s drug-addicted daughter. I hope at least some of them will also see the cry for justice that Machete is.


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Machete (2010)
US/Can release: Sep 3 2010
UK/Ire release: Nov 26 2010

MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity
BBFC: rated 18 (contains strong bloody violence)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Yesssssssssss….

  • nyjm

    I had high hopes for this movie, and Rodriguez rarely disappoints. Definitely on the “must see” list now.

  • I HAVE to ask this: are Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly actually in this movie somewhere, or did you devote three paragraphs towards a political posturing that will likely make no sense to anyone who reads this review a few years from now? Love your show!

  • Colleen

    So we finally get the back story on “uncle Machete” from the Spy Kids trilogy. Cool. :)

  • CB

    Yeah, hate to tell you MAJ, but the boat has already sailed on conservative talking heads claiming Rodriguez is inciting a class/race war with Machete. It already happened after the Cinco de Mayo trailer was released.

    Oh sorry, forgot I’m not supposed to talk about anything topical since it won’t make since years from now… since the movie isn’t topical or rooted in the context of today…

  • MC

    If only that so-called “political posturing” didn’t make sense in a few years. Any world where O’Reilly and Beck are so removed from the public consciousness that people don’t remember their names seems like a wonderful world to me.

  • CB

    Hehe… I since I’m not making since sense I stopped sinceing which since of the word sense I’m using…

  • MaryAnn

    Rodriguez rarely disappoints

    Except when he makes movies for kids. *shudder*

    are Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly actually in this movie somewhere,

    Yes. They are played by Robert DeNiro.

    the boat has already sailed on conservative talking heads claiming Rodriguez is inciting a class/race war with Machete

    It will be renewed. I can’t wait to see Beck spewing. Maybe he’ll have a heart attack.

    Oops, did I just say that? I meant a metaphoric heart attack.

    Any world where O’Reilly and Beck are so removed from the public consciousness that people don’t remember their names seems like a wonderful world to me.

    Me, too. I fear, however, that things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better…

  • EZ

    Sounds like it’s also timely for the white-washing talk that’s been kicking up more and more. Although this time in reverse, with Segal cast as the bad Mexican.

  • Hermon Munster

    Dudes, this is pure hate propaganda. You think it’s cool, eh? Well in this media age where life imitates art you must dream of killing White people. So is killing White men entertaining or do you want women and children also?

  • Dudes, this is pure hate propaganda.

    Can’t tell if you’re serious or not, but as MaryAnn says, the film is still also half tongue-in-cheek. Rodriguez wants equality, not actual machete violence. Until you’ve seen the end of the movie, you won’t quite “get” it.

    Lindsay Lohan does not actually get naked in the movie, FYI. It’s clearly carefully chosen footage from the original Grindhouse — if the blonde actress’ hair is covering her face, it’s in the film.

    The abundant returning characters from Grindhouse are a kick, but my favorite references are to two other movies: a distinctly Escape From New York-inspired digital diagram of a wall, and Robert De Niro driving a taxi.

  • I can’t remember the last mainstream movie that featured so many Latinos in all the major good-guy roles, including not one but, miraculously, two women.

    Spy Kids? Selena? My Family?

    Yes, they are a bit rare.

    So here we have former Mexian federale Machete (Danny Trejo: Predators, Battle for Terra), who ran north of the border to escape Torrez’s wrath after the cop dared to try to take the druglord down…

    Mexian? So Trejo’s character comes from an imaginary country instead of Mexico?

    Oh sorry, forgot I’m not supposed to talk about anything topical since it won’t make since years from now… since the movie isn’t topical or rooted in the context of today…

    I guess that explains why the humor of An American Carol seems even less funny after two years of Great Recession II than it did when it first came out.

    On a more serious note–and noting the irony in CB’s comments–the illegal alien issue has been with us for some time and so have the various conservative attempts to make hay of the issue. It seems silly to pretend it’s not topical when just five years ago it was the topic of one of the biggest series of political demonstrations this country has ever seen.

    I’m not going to pretend it’s the only issue people should talk about but it hasn’t exactly gone away since 2006.

  • RogerBW

    This is the first film for a while that looks as though it might be genuinely fun.

    What I’ve seen of blaxploitation generally has black bad guys too – “we have problems, but we take care of them ourselves”. This sounds rather more simplistic than that – which for a film like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all.

    Great to see a leading man who isn’t a pretty boy.

  • CB

    @MAJ

    are Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly actually in this movie somewhere,

    Yes. They are played by Robert DeNiro.

    Nice one!

    @Tonio

    Mexian? So Trejo’s character comes from an imaginary country instead of Mexico?

    Mexian isn’t a nationality, it’s an adjective meaning “likely to chop you up with a machete, official federale procedure be damned”. Capitalizing it was a typo. ;)

    It seems silly to pretend it’s not topical when just five years ago it was the topic of one of the biggest series of political demonstrations this country has ever seen.

    Indeed. This movie was conceived of long before the recent iteration of the debate involving the Arizona law came around, and the issue isn’t going away.

    And while (with any luck) the names Beck and O’Reilly won’t mean anything to a future reader but an awesome alt-rocker and a series of highly informative computer books, I’m pretty sure they’ll still understand the sentiment.

  • KingSoup

    While I loathe to spoil the righteous, ever-so-WASPy lefty anger on display in the review, a few quick points:

    1. Mexico is a (predominantly) European-immigrant, caucasian (white) country.
    2. It has an ugly ‘race’ problem, in that it’s mestizo (mixed Indian) population (Mexican underclass) is treated like crap.
    3. Mexico’s army brutally enforces immigration at *it’s* southern border, annually drawing criticism from the UN.

    ‘Machete’ apparently, natch, doesn’t exactly deal with any of that. If you think it’s a rousing B-grade action tale….great. A lot of 70’s era B-grade flicks featured stilted lefty politics, that’s true. But don’t play at ‘Machete’ making any substantive social points; it’s race-based harrumphing that plays to North American WASP (re: Coastal idiots) sensibilities.

  • Knightgee

    @ KingSoup. What does any of that have to do with anything? Is this like when certain white people try to suggest slavery wasn’t the fault of their ancestors because black people had slaves in Africa too? It’s nothing but an attempt to salve your own guilt and anxiety by reminding the rest of us–but mostly yourself–that your own racist xenophobic screeds are somehow okay because “they” do bad things too. Which of those three points justifies the continued dehumanization of Mexican immigrants in America? Which of those three points renders a critique of the American immigration system as well as America’s penchant for exploiting immigrant labor while simultaneously demonizing immigrants somehow less valid a critique to engage in? They don’t. Those points exist purely to distract from the issue, red herrings meant to pull us away from the bad shit our own country is implicit in. The only reason you percieve it as not making any substantive social points is because it isn’t going out of its way to portray a more “balanced” (read: more forgiving to racists and the people that apologize for them) sentiment.

  • But don’t play at ‘Machete’ making any substantive social points; it’s race-based harrumphing that plays to North American WASP (re: Coastal idiots) sensibilities.

    Heh. I don’t know about MaryAnn but I don’t consider myself a WASP. I’m a Latino half and half who also happens to be Catholic–though I will admit that my skin has a tendency to turn pink when exposed to the sun. And the closest coast in my area is the Gulf coast–which is at least a day’s drive from where I’m at.

    And yes, the Mexican government has a lot to answer for. But so what? I wasn’t aware that the theme of Rodriguez’ movie was “Yay, PRI!” or “Up with PAN people!”

    Nor do I recall any of Rodriguez’ critics having issues with all the Mexicans killed in El Mariachi, Desperado or From Dusk to Dawn. Nor did they seem to have any issues with the fact that the hero of one such movie was played by a Spaniard and the hero of another by a white non-Hispanic. So may I assume that some types of race-based harrumphing are more acceptable than others? ;-)

  • KingSoup

    I’m a Latino half and half who also happens to be Catholic–though I will admit that my skin has a tendency to turn pink when exposed to the sun.

    I’m a ‘Latino half and half’ as you say as well. Assuming a person isn’t heavily mestizo, most all Latinos get pink with too much sun. We’re caucasian. Mexican/Latin is an ethnicity, not a race. Just like Ukrainian, Irish, Italian, etc. isn’t a race. :/

    And yes, the Mexican government has a lot to answer for. But so what?

    ….because what the article is describing is a movie that’s postulating ‘evil Yankee gringos’ as the source of the immigrant problem. Immigration/treatment of Hispanics is what the movie is about. As somebody who has lived in both America and Mexico, the Mexican government does a brutal job with it’s underclass. That’s why there’s freaking mass immigration in the first place.! Do Americans send their poor to Canada as a solution to poverty? I’ve only lived in the US for five years, so maybe I’ve missed that.

    There are points to be made about a decent life for labor-immigrants (overwhelmingly from Oxaca)in the US for sure. But if you want to take a REAL, SERIOUS angry kind of movie look at the issue, Mexico’s shitty treatment of the poor is half the equation.

    Nor do I recall any of Rodriguez’ critics having issues with all the Mexicans killed in El Mariachi, Desperado or From Dusk to Dawn.

    Unless those movies were about gringos killing Mexicans for political/ethnic reasons, I think you’re talking apples vs. oranges in terms of framing. And I’m not saying ‘Machete’ is some serious affront: it sounds like it’s a decent B-grade action flick. However, Evil Gringos vs. Angelic, class-unified Mexicans is a pretty simplistic view of a serious issue.

  • Knightgee

    But if you want to take a REAL, SERIOUS angry kind of movie look at the issue, Mexico’s shitty treatment of the poor is half the equation.

    Yeah, and here’s what’s going to happen with such a movie. Americans will see it. They will subsequently realize that Mexico has it’s own share of problems. They will then use these problems to justify their absolutely shitty treatment of immigrants from Mexico and absolve themselves of any blame whatsoever. It’s happened time and time again and is one of the oldest methods for ducking out of responsibility. Americans–or really any people implicit in something heinous–have a tendency to look for scapegoats to avoid having to deal with their role in problems.

    A side-note: you seem to be chastising Rodriguez for not focusing on an issue you deem more important. While I can understand that frustration, it helps no one to say that he shouldn’t talk about a very real issue unless he’s also addressing a particular grievance you want him to address. Rodriguez has spent most of his life in America and grew up in Texas, not Mexico and thus he may feel that he is only qualified to speak to his experiences in America. Given this, would you even want him exploring an issue he could so easily screw up due to lack of knowledge and experience? Why is it his responsibility to speak to a problem he has no experience with? I don’t expect MaryAnn to spend a review talking about the homophobia or racism present in a movie, because that’s not something she can really speak to the way I’d probably want someone to. But I also don’t hold it against her or consider her reviews somehow less meaningful because they tend to focus more on gender and not race and sexuality. I just find reviewers that do.

  • JoshB

    We’re caucasian. Mexican/Latin is an ethnicity, not a race. Just like Ukrainian, Irish, Italian, etc. isn’t a race. :/

    If you want to play that game then everything is an ethnicity, not a race. There’s no such thing as race except as it exists in your mind.

    I’m also a hispanic-white mutt. My grandmother was a poor native from Zacatecas. Does that make me more qualified to speak on this issue, or are you spouting nonsense and hoping none of the coastal idiots will notice?

    Flyover idiot.

  • MaryAnn

    As somebody who has lived in both America and Mexico, the Mexican government does a brutal job with it’s underclass. That’s why there’s freaking mass immigration in the first place.!

    This movie is not about why people leave Mexico to come to America. It’s about what happens to them once they do.

  • You think it’s cool, eh? Well in this media age where life imitates art you must dream of killing White people. So is killing White men entertaining or do you want women and children also?

    Movies about killing white people are clearly entertaining. Did you enjoy Braveheart? How about Friday the 13th? Saving Private Ryan? Psycho?

  • stryker1121

    What political statement was Rodriguez making with the intestinal rappelling scene?

  • CB

    What political statement was Rodriguez making with the intestinal rappelling scene?

    Obviously protesting the 1983 Texas law which made what would otherwise be 2nd Degree Murder into 1st Degree when the victim’s intestines were subsequently used for rappelling.

  • There are other movies that bring to topic the horrific situation in both Mexico and the United States regarding illegal immigration and our border problems: The Border starring Jack Nicholson in 1982, El Norte in 1983, 2006 documentary Arizona Crossing, there are others.

    Machete is aimed as a more action-packed entertainment film: but it does bring up how politicians and businesses use anti-immigrant fervor to stir up hatreds of Mexican/Hispanic Illegals, and yet perpetuate a criminal system of smuggling and human/drug trafficking to profit from it at the same time.

    Like the TV Tropes says: Some Anvils Need To Be Dropped.

  • Also, the movie was awesome. So there.

  • MaryAnn

    You think it’s cool, eh? Well in this media age where life imitates art you must dream of killing White people. So is killing White men entertaining or do you want women and children also?

    I believe I made it perfectly clear in my review that the film makes it perfectly clear that the injustice Machete is fighting isn’t about race but about class. There are Mexican characters waging class warfare on Mexican characters here, and Anglo characters supporting poor Mexicans here.

    It’s an eat-the-rich (and powerful) thing, not a kill-whitey thing. And yeah, it feels pretty good to see a fantasy in which the rich and the powerful who are using their wealth and powerful to hurt poor, powerless people get a taste of what being on the wrong end of power feels like.

  • What political statement was Rodriguez making with the intestinal rappelling scene?

    It takes guts to stand up against the Man?

  • Susan

    I wish I could see this movie, but I just cannot take graphic violence. I’ll use your review to recommend it to people I know will love it though. It sounds wonderful!

  • drewryce

    Hey Maryanne, I’ve noticed that in some of your other reviews you are critical of the age differential between the male and female romantic leads. I am a Danny Trejo fan but the guy is like 65 or 66 years old. The females in the film that he (well, can’t really call it romances can we?) plays opposite, appear to be barely out of their teens.

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