Okay this review is going to need a little more work on your part than usual. Before we get going, go and watch this trailer.
All done? Good! Okay so that trailer is one that screened before/during/after the 2007 Grindhouse double bill helmed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino and wasn’t something to be taken entirely seriously. There are a number of other like fake trailers included in the feature from such calibre as Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright, which all take the same homage/mock approach to classic B Movies of yesteryear. What’s the need for me telling you this? Well it’s that Machete then started off as kind of a joke.
Well not entirely; from very on in their working relationship Rodriguez had been developing the character of Machete and had always had Trejo in mind for the part. The Grindhouse feature gave him the opportunity to put the vibe for Machete out there, and the reaction was so positive that they decided to go whole hog and make the movie.
Now that you know that, go and watch this trailer for the actual movie. Other than the obvious high def upgrade and some additional scenes, what do you notice? That’s right Casta fans, certain parts are the same, verbatim. So what’s the point in me getting you to do all this hard work? Well these two trailers go some way in helping to illustrate some of the problems that I had with Machete (and interaction is fun no?).
To make this clear before I start ranting, I don’t know if at the point that the mock trailer for Machete was made, whether or not Rodriguez had the movie fully scripted, and knew what parts of the story he wanted to include in a pretend trailer. I’m going to presume then that he didn’t, but even if he did the following criticism still stands.
Something we frequently complain about on Casta is that all the best bits happen in the trailer, and when a trailer is created specifically to show you only the good bits (as theoretically no other scenes existed) it should go without saying that if you try and build a story around those scenes, it’s either;
a) not going to be anywhere as interesting as the scenes themselves
b) not going to work
Machete falls into the former category which, whilst not as bad as the latter, still isn’t a good place to be. Certain scenes in the movie feel like stepping stones purely to get to the more outlandish bits that the first trailer established had to happen – it almost feels like a child telling an “and then and then and then” story. In a way sticking so rigidly to that first trailer seems to have worked against the movie a lot more than it should have.
Enough about trailers already and onto the main critique! Is Machete actually any bloody good? Well yes and no. But mostly no. (DECISIVE!)
There are parts of this movie that are sheer genius and hilarious to watch. The first five minutes in particular go a good way of demonstrating all that’s right with this movie; against all orders, Machete storms a bad guy’s base to save a damsel in distress (killing his partner in the process) and proceeds to chop everyone who stands in his way to bits. With the bad guys dispensed with, the girl double crosses him and pulls a mobile from her… parts… to call her boss in to finish Machete off. Gasp! It’s Steven Seagal! He then kills Machete’s wife in front of him and escapes the building just before it blows up with Machete still in it. Cue opening credits. Don’t worry that I’ve spoiled too much for you there; as mentioned earlier all that takes place in the first five minutes. When Machete works it really works.
However, not all of the movie holds up as well. The problem with paying such dedicated homage to something is that you can often carry all the bad parts over with it. Let’s take the dialogue for example; B Movies are well known for having poor, sloppy, cheesy dialogue and Machete carries this trait too. Although it’s clear that this is done purposefully, the real sticker for me is that it doesn’t really matter if you’re trying to emulate something from the past, bad dialogue is bad dialogue; and whilst it might prove entertaining to some for me it felt stunted, incomplete and awkward – even compared to some of the poorer films of the year. There’s a reason that B Movies and straight to TV/DVD flicks fall into those categories, and although I admire the passion displayed in staying so close to subject matter, I can’t help but feel that if you emulate rubbish, all you’ll end up with is rubbish. Also, in parts it’s really boring.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this film was Trejo himself, and not through any real fault of his own. The script only ever requires him to arbitrarily move from place to place, say some wooden dialogue and then either stab some people or sex them instead. It’s a real shame that his first leading role (after twenty five years in the business in the business I might add) actually requires very little of him, whilst the supporting cast actually gets the more interesting lines and action.
On that note, the cast weighting feels very odd with Trejo not actually getting all that much screen time. Don’t get me wrong; he is a presence throughout the story, but by the finale there’s so many differing groups and “lead” characters (De Niro, Seagal, and Rodriguez to name but a few) all vying for revenge/justice/whatever, that Trejo isn’t really left with anything to do; in fact it seems to be Jessica Alba who ends up with the most screen time – strange considering that she’s billed in a “with” part.
All in all then Machete proved to be a disappointment with odd flashes of greatness. It dedicates so much of its efforts into being as close an homage as possible, that it neglects the flaws inherent in its subject’s stylings. As great as it is to see Trejo abseiling using someone’s intestines, chopping people’s arms off willy nilly, or flying through the sky with a minigun mounted on the front of a motorbike, ultimately the few isolated incidents aren’t worth sitting through the rest of Machete’s tiresome duration. Unfortunately this movie just didn’t work for me.
Arguably then only for the B Movie aficionados. If you’re after 2010’s best rubbish action move, go watch From Paris with Love instead.