“Did you ever notice how you let a Mexican into your home just because he’s got gardening tools? I mean, no questions asked. You just let him right in. He could have, you know, a chainsaw or a machete.”
The last year has been a hot year for the illegal immigration debate, between the Arizona law and the various politicians to the vigilante groups that volunteer to arm up and patrol the borders. As the debate rages on and the violence increases, it was only a matter of time before someone exploited it all for your entertainment pleasure. Who better than Robert Rodriquez and his usual cast of suspects?
If you saw the Grindhouse double feature event a couple of years ago, you likely remember that the show came with some trailers for films that weren’t really coming, but fit the whole Grindhouse theme. One of those trailers was for a film called Machete. It was a three-minute adrenaline rush that must have gotten noticed a little more than anyone thought. Because here we are a few years later, and the film is real and coming to you in high definition Blu-ray. And it’s not coming at you easy.
The first thing we have to deal with here is the obvious question of turning a three-minute farce into a full-fledged motion picture. Usually those kinds of ideas are akin to Saturday Night Live sketches that get bloated into major motion pictures. If history has taught us anything from these experiments, it’s that it’s usually not as good an idea in execution as it is when you’re hanging around with the film crew knocking back a few cold ones. And that must have been the first thing that came to most of your minds when the real film Machete landed at your local Cineplex back in September. I think most of you thought it was still a joke. The box office numbers weren’t very impressive. But the $26 million was still a good return on the mere $10 million the film cost to make. Obviously, this rather talented cast went a little easy in the negotiations just to have a good time making the movie. But it isn’t a joke. This is actually a pretty kick-butt action film with a little more graphic novel appeal than popcorn appeal. If you passed on the theater run, you’ve been given a second chance. I’d make the most of it, if I were you.
Machete (Trejo) is a Mexican Federale. He’s the last honest cop left on the beat. When he tries to rescue a young girl being held hostage by one of the drug kingpins, he discovers that he’s been set up by his own department. Torrez (Seagal), his boss is waiting there for him along with his wife and daughter. Torrez kills his family and leaves Machete for dead. This is a great opening that puts Seagal on the opposite end of one of his most traditional clichés. How many movies have we seen where Seagal’s family gets whacked and now he’s out for revenge. But that’s only the beginning of the tale.
Machete makes his way across the border and finds himself as a day laborer in the States. He has a hard time finding any work. With that face and his imposing body, he might just be a little intimidating. But that’s just the kind of laborer that Michael Booth (Fahey) is looking for. He offers Machete $150,000 to assassinate Senator John McLaughlin. McLaughlin is a tough voice against illegals in Texas. He talks tough and engages in ride-alongs with a vigilante group run by Von Jackson (Johnson) and shoots down pregnant illegals just for kicks (and the $100 supporters). But his campaign has been tanking, and McLaughlin is sinking faster in the polls than a lead balloon in soap bubbles. But nothing can turn a campaign like his around faster than an assassination attempt by an illegal. Yeah, Machete’s been set up to take another fall. And, once again he’s left for dead. This time he finds help in an illegals’ network coordinator Luz (Rodriquez) and border cop Sartana (Alba). With a whole network of hit men and cops out for blood, this thing’s going to turn into one hell of a bloody war before it’s all said and done.
These kinds of movies are simple when you boil it all down. Robert Rodriquez simply had to pull out his trusty little Sharp calculator and plug in a few variables:
Start at the top with Machete himself. Find yourself the ugliest, toughest, meanest character actor in the business. That equals Danny Trejo. It’s about time he got a chance to step out from behind his usual supporting background tough-guy roles. This guy can carry a film. Of course, he gets a little help from his friends.
You need a super name to tie everything together. Find someone with A-list credentials but with a reputation for taking a flyer and having a little fun with a role. If your calculator comes up with anyone other than Robert De Niro, it’s busted.
Find an action hero and turn his whole formula around. We already did that with Steven Seagal.
The next thing you’re going to need is a television star from the 1980’s. It’s best to find someone who hasn’t had a hit since the first George Bush was President, but someone who was once at least big enough to make a splash. It’s even better if he played a cool trendy dressing cop in a glitzy southern Florida metropolis where we also got a lot of rock and roll. We’ll put him behind a big cowboy hat and dark glasses so the audience gets just a tease. Who else but Don Johnson can you put in that role?
You should plug in a guy with a background in comedy. This is the last guy you’re going to expect to be totin’ firepower. Make him a little firecracker and a loyal guy. The film’s about Mexicans, so a Latino would really be helpful here. It wouldn’t hurt if the guy also played the partner of our washed-up television star in his comeback series. Did anyone mention Cheech Marin?
Let’s see. Oh yeah. Let’s throw in a spoiled-rotten party girl who thinks the world revolves around her every bowel movement. Some time in rehab and/or jail is a must here. Oh, and let’s pretty much let her play herself. If God hadn’t made Lindsay Lohan for just such a part, we would have had to make her up. Wait a minute…
Let’s add in a pretty good television actor from a more recent hit (Jeff Fahey) and a makeup genius from the early days of the slasher movie. But he has to be surprisingly good as an actor. Not just anyone will do here. Of course, my old pal Tom Savini comes to mind for that role.
Finally, this kind of movie needs some eye candy. We need babes that can dance around half-naked but still hold their own with the acting chops and the firepower. You know the type I mean. The kind of girl you’d love to bag, but might be afraid she’d kick your butt for just making eye contact. Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean. We’ll get Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriquez.
Now you’ve got the right equation going. You have to put it all in the correct environment. Every equation has to balance, at least that’s what they told me in high school. Yet doing my homework on a seesaw never really helped me come up with the right answers. Balance here can be found in the comic-book-style violence and bloodshed. That means plenty of decapitations. Slashings must deliver gushers of blood. You’ve got to kill at least 649 people, and that’s before you get to the final showdown. And the final showdown has to be all-out war.
Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about. You get all of that and much more with Machete. It looks like Kill Bill meets Sin City, and it’s one hell of a ride from beginning to end. There are moments in the film you could freeze-frame and they’d look like graphic novel splash pages. The blood is almost like a cartoon, so even though there’s tons of carnage you really don’t ever take any of it seriously. Look, you know exactly what you’re getting into with this movie. It’s a fun ride. Sure, there are a few social messages buried into the subtext, but I doubt that anyone involved was thinking about the social statement here. This is early 70’s exploitation cinema. There’s no question from the credits, fonts and intentional film blemishes that that’s exactly what these guys were after.
Machete is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 35-40 mbps. This is a fine high-definition image presentation, but you do have to understand that the filmmakers were going for something quite gritty and raw here. There’s plenty of grain, which only serves to complete the atmosphere they were going for here. The colors almost all look drab with a ton of earth tones. The blood is over-the-top. That’s about the best that color breaks through on this film. With all of that said, the film sports incredible detail. The close-ups on Trejo reveal his pitted face in all of its glory here. Black levels are better than average when you take into account the grainy style of the film itself.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does a good job of bringing you into the film. The score is a mix of Ennio Morricone and grunge. There’s no question it’s an important part of the presentation here. The mix is solid. Surrounds are often quite aggressive, but none of this is ever overpowering or too in-your-face. There’s a lot of dynamic range here. Your sub gets a chance to do what you bought it to do. Dialog is always clear and perfectly placed.
Unfortunately, there really aren’t that many features here. I really was hoping for much more.
Deleted Scenes: (10:58) There are 10 with a play-all. The scenes mostly bring in a story arc that involves a twin sister for Alba’s character.
If you’ve seen the double-bill Grindhouse films, you know exactly what you’re getting into here. This is 100% pure entertainment. While there might be an overt attempt to look for a social message in the whole illegal immigration thing, I don’t think the film is trying to raise social consciousness. It’s a rowdy ride from beginning to end with caricature characters and plenty of guns, blades, babes, and blood. If you just want to have some fun, you really need to check out this everybody dies action feature. There’s not likely to be any sequel because just about everybody gets shot. “Survivors will be shot again.“