Machete

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.


Machete

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Runtime: 105 min.

Spoiled alert: That
over-the-top image of Danny Trejo firing a machine-gun-mounted-motorcycle
while being propelled by a fireball in the Grindhouse spoof-trailer for Machete never appears in the movie itself. But Machete cheats
even more than that. Robert Rodriguez’s spoof-trailer promised fun, but
now that the actual movie is here, he gives us idiocy. Machete combines
genre spoofery with a presumptuous political message. Putting
action-movie fantasy on the same level as the current Mexican border and
illegal-immigrant controversy, Machete ruins moviegoers’ fun.

Rodriguez’s
betrayal starts with diminishing Danny Trejo. The haggard-faced
Mexican-born actor who has vacillated between villain and hero parts for
over two decades is finally cast in a mythic lead role: Machete’s
fierce, sword-wielding street rep hides his identity as a government
agent fighting Mexican drug lords. he’s meant to be a folk hero to
Latinos as well as action-geeks, but Rodriguez’s script limits Trejo’s
persona. he doesn’t rise above being a thugly, but resolute, ethnic
badass— embodying what Morrissey called “Pure Mexican” when recently
saluting the avantrock group Café Tecuba on MTV Tr3s.

Problem is, the way Rodriguez stereotypes Trejo is not avant-pop. (“he’s CIA, ICE, FBI all rolled into one mean burrito," a bad
guy says as if racism was wit.) Silly Rodriguez does not respect the
ethnographic complexities of a non-white movie hero who fights for his
people while also correcting the inequalities of the American system.

In Machete, Rodriguez
emulates the ruthless ambivalence of those 1970s blaxploitation movies
that introduced black heroes into previously segregated genres. But
appeals to contemporary audiences who don’t understand the enthralling
paradox turning rebels into conventional heroes. Rodriguez
over-simplifies and deracinates blaxploitation tropes
Tarantino-style—down using funk music in the background sex scenes.
(Machete swinging from a man’s entrails into a windowsill is an idiotic
homage to Richard Roundtree in Shaft.) This undervalues his
audience’s commitment the revolution of ethnic pop. Rodriguez misses the
multi-culti beauty perfected in that memorable August Darnell lyric,
“His mother was a Mexican/ His father was a Cherokee/ But he was
All-American to me.” Machete simply becomes a violent joke and Trejo,
whose unexpectedly funny appearance Delta Farce was so great, isn’t enough of an actor to rise about his regular pay grade. He can’t keep Machete from being trashy.

Neither
can Robert De Niro, who spoofs a John McCain-like anti-immigration
Senator. But this context isn’t subversive like the theater radical De
Niro’s portrayed in the 1970 Hi, Mom!, Brian De Palma’s first
great film that brought radical theater to the big screen. Here, De Niro
portrays a stereotypical right-wing bigot. With De Palma, De Niro
showed how counterculture behavior didn’t require sincerity to be
enlightening, but with Rodriguez, De Niro’s conservative villainy is no
more than superficial, which is abusive. Rodriguez’s mix of satire and
ideology makes the most puerile political comedy since Borat.

When
Machete sexes Michelle Rodriguez as a taco-selling revolutionary,
Jessica Alba as an ICE agent and Lindsay Lohan as a crook’s daughter,
the juvenile routine of his sexual potency negates the political issues.
Michelle Rodriguez’s boast, “I sell tacos to workers of the world. It
fills their bellies with something besides hate,” must speak for the
director. This cliché action film is as gaseous as a cheap taco. All the
bloodletting is like ketchup, yet Rodriquez and co-director Ethan
Maniquise’s filmmaking provides no relish. The dialogue is trite and the
action techniques (quick mutilations and bursts of blood) are between
cornball and inept.

Robert
Rodriguez takes advantage of fanboy trash taste, which may be the only
aesthetic tradition celebrated in contemporary film culture. But it’s
still crap taste, and Rodriguez’s political points—arguing in favor of
open-borders and illegal immigration— don’t justify such garbage. Machete never
raises one’s perceptions or thinking the way Neveldine-Taylor do. The
gruesome prologue in which Stevan Seagal kills Machete’s wife and child
recalls the underrated (yet brilliant) Jonah Hex, yet this
ludicrously exaggerated violence isn’t meant to be felt—just laughed at
with fake erudition. If this kind of selfconscious cinema junk is to be
enjoyed, it can only be enjoyed by morons.

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