Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Machete
Why do I want to be a real person when I’m already a myth?
Jarv’s rating: One and a half Changs out of four. By far the best of the modern exploitation films, and the first half an hour is legitimately funny. However, the film can’t maintain it, by definition, as it is a one joke concept. As the film tires, it becomes less and less amusing, and the feeling that they threw the kitchen sink at the concept lingers long after the final credits. Basically, pretty shit, but better than Hobo With a Shotgun and Nude Nuns with Big Guns.
As Oasis sang in the 90’s: “I’m freeeeeeee to do whatever I want” and in this case whatever I want does certainly not include post-modern ironic modern exploitation films. I’m pig fucking sick of them as they’re all garbage, most are mean spirited and even this, the best of them, is a one-joke film that becomes absolutely painful to watch after a while. Machete is another one spawned from the Grindhouse experiment, and is the film that sports the best cast, has the best intentions and best understands the ethos they were aiming for. That doesn’t make it any good, though. These films piss me off.
I think there’s a fundamental disconnect in the minds of the people who are making these films. The grindhouse movies that were successful were made for peanuts, had invariably woeful scripts, were immensely graphic, hugely shoddy and yet, despite the previous flaws, something in them excelled and they managed to overcome the limitations placed on them. These “modern” exploitations, the nouveau grindhouse films, don’t have this problem. Machete, for example, has Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, The Ponytail, Michelle Rodriguez, Don Johnson and Robert DeNiro featuring prominently. It also had a budget of $10.5m (more than the vastly superior Centurion). This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, Grindhouse level film making. In lieu of this, Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Manquis have instead tried to jam it full of typical Grindhouse touches, such as the grain effect on the film (I wish they wouldn’t do this). My big problem here is that the original Grindhouse films were trying to overcome these limitations, whereas these modern efforts are deliberately lowering themselves to appear cheaper and shittier than they are. This is annoying, because do you think one Grindhouse director out there would deliberately have made his films look like shit if he had the money to do otherwise? Course not. Even the evil that is Thundercrack! didn’t have a grainy look to it, although this is a bad thing, because it did expose me clearly to what was happening on screen.
Leaving the trauma of Tennessee Williams does gay porn aside, let’s take a look at Machete. Danny Trejo plays the eponymous badass. He’s a Mexican with a big knife collection. Betrayed and set up by drug dealer Torrez (Steven Seagal), he’s framed and left for dead. Cut to three years later, and he’s scratching out a living in the US. We’re introduced to Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), and the Network. Machete is hired by Booth (Jeff Fahey) to kill Senator McLaughlin (DeNiro) who is in control of red neck execution border patrol scumbags led by Von Jackson(Don Johnson). Being pursued by Jessica Alba’s Sartana (the world’s least convincing Immigration officer), Machete is betrayed, hooks up with his brother (Cheech) and begins the search for payback. Oh, and Lohan gets her tits out.
Distilling the plot of this film is a chore. It’s all over the place, and they’ve literally thrown every idea they had into the mix. As a result, well, it’s a fucking mess. Lohan’s storyline adds literally nothing to the plot aside from casual nudity (and Nuns), which is not necessarily a bad thing, but this film is stuffed full of boob anyway. The acting is all OK- even Alba manages not to suck, but the problem is that the film is heavily overplotted, it’s a veritable cornucopia of ideas and Grindhouse features that aren’t united in a coherent manner. As such, it becomes very evident that this is a one joke film, and boy does the joke become tiresome very quickly. In fact, the bloody finale can’t come quick enough for me, as it finally puts the tortured gag out of its misery.
There are positives here, and they all come in the first half an hour: it’s fun for the most part watching Trejo (perfect casting) kick some ass and take some names. However, he’s only got one trick: to look big and angry, and the film as such is asking an awful lot of the audience to stay with it over the run time. While not actively reprehensible like Nude Nuns or Hobo, Machete doesn’t have the energy or invention to maintain the blistering first half an hour and as such becomes effectively a bore. Still, to be fair, I have said that it does at least understand the genre, so when Trejo isn’t shooting or stabbing people, there’s boobs galore on the screen. Lohan in particular took time off from massive drug abuse to get her jubblies out, so makes the most of it by dropping her clothes at every opportunity.
Overall, don’t bother with this. It’s OK, and easily the best of the non-parodic grindhouse films (doesn’t hold a candle to Black Dynamite, for example). However, at the end of the day, it doesn’t have the imagination to tie it together into a coherent film, and doesn’t have the inventiveness to keep the entertainment coming. I do recommend this more than the reprehensible shit like Hobo or Nuns, but that isn’t an accolade. Machete is just not as cool or as fun as it thinks it is, and I’m starting to really turn against this self-satisfied film-making.
Once again, I implore writers and directors out there to stop watching the 70’s stuff to mimic the style and watch Bitch Slap. Let Jacobsen show you how the trashy side of cinema should be done.
Until next time,