Bright Lights Film Journal

“Machete doesn’t text.”


This definitive statement comes from Machete, an ex-Federale played by veteran tough guy, Danny Trejo in the deliciously extreme action gore-fest Machete, which opens nationwide Friday, September 3.

But apparently Machete does text after all, just not to immigration agent Sartana, played by Jessica Alba. He texts his nemesis, Michael Benz, a slimy mullet-coifed businessman, whom he soon brings down the old-fashioned way, with a machete. Surely Machete is an action hero for our times. The proud Mexican, dressed mostly as a worker, sometimes a leather biker, knife-throwing fighter, champion of oppressed immigrants. He defies the evil drug lords, the self-interested Texan politicians, the greedy middlemen, and all their black-suited goons. He also gets the two gorgeous Latinas in the film, both Sartana and Luz, the trash-talking taco lady ((arrestingly played by bad-gal Michelle Rodriquez) who runs an underground immigrant network.

But Machete isn’t just a Mexican myth writ large. Indeed, he adapts to whatever situation befalls him. As the film careens along at blood-splattered, breakneck pace, whatever Machete seems to hold sacred, he often revises on the fly. He’d prefer to use his knife but opts for an M-16. He’d like to kill Benz sooner rather than later, but takes time out to make a sex tape with the nemesis’ wife and daughter in their family swimming pool before drugging them and carting them off as naked hostages. Machete, the ultimate “decider,” chooses his victims, changes his direction, kills, and saves lives all with a flick of the wrist and the variety of blades placed handily within his reach.

Machete’s troubles begin in Mexico, when he’s betrayed while believing he’s conducting a rescue mission. He becomes an undocumented Mexican day laborer as he recovers from the brutal loss of his wife and daughter to drug lord Torrez, played with a half-hearted Mexican accent by the porcine, Asian-babe-accompanied Steven Seagal. Machete is recruited to assassinate anti-immigration Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), but is betrayed again (doesn’t the Mexican Myth Man learn the first time?). As it turns out, Machete has been framed by the Senator himself, who attempts to bolster his flagging campaign by making himself appear the victim of an angry illegal immigrant. Luckily for Machete, however, his brother Padre (Cheech Marin) has been recording all the confessions and the actions that go on in his seemingly peaceful little traditional Mexican church.

There are a lot of such improbabilities in Machete, some inconsistencies too, and for anyone looking for a serious discussion of immigration or the plight of immigrants, this film isn’t the one.

Machete, like the movie’s hero, is just about action. Also about being super cool and bad to the bone. Nothing to dislike here. In fact, it’s easy to wager even anti-immigration folks might enjoy the wild ride or at least fancy themselves as vigilante revolutionaries , though not like the white trash Texan caricatures who meet their doom in the end. Even if Jessica Alba’s character lithely jumps atop her beemer in her Jimmy Choo heels and mobilizes the Mexican workers to act in favor of a “higher law” (perhaps some of those God-given equal rights the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once invoked), this film is just too busy having fun. The camera quickly cuts to the fabulous Lindsay Lohan, who spends most of her time buck naked and ravished by drugs and sex in this film. Lohan’s definitely on her game here, both naked and dressed as a gun-toting nun.

Game is the salient term. For Machete is also all about changing clothes. The ending shows a few immigrants who hope to continue the fight, one dead senator in day-laborer get-up and Jessica Alba in thigh-high leather boots, ready to throw off all her American Dreams for a ride on a Harley with the Machete. Maybe while viewers are dragged along with the action, they can also think about law and immigration, justice, and vigilantism, but such tidy thoughts will also get blown away with the onslaught of action, warring pseudo-terrorists, the posse of colorful, custom lowriders to the rescue. Machete, the work of erstwhile cartoonist director Robert Rodriguez, serves up a feast of fun. In these dark days, what else could one ask for?