In 2007, the line “They just fucked with the wrong Mexican”—-voiceover from a fake trailer for a nonexistent movie—-caused enough of a clamor to get a real film made. Or maybe it was the sight of Cheech Marin as an enthusiastically homicidal priest. Or, perhaps the best, Danny Trejo on a machine-gun-outfitted motorcycle, splaying bullets as he flew through the air with an explosion at his back. In less than three minutes, these three elements alone (served up during the faux-intermission of Grindhouse) proved entertaining and inspired enough to leave audiences wanting more.
So writer-director Robert Rodriguez has obliged, and now gives us Machete, a gleeful Mexploitation flick starring Trejo as the title character, a former federal agent gone rogue after a betrayal leaves his family dead. Machete initially slogs along as a day laborer in Texas when an oily businessman (Jeff Fahey) picks him up and requests more than some drywall work: There’s a senator (Robert De Niro, doing his folksiest cowboy) who’s running for re-election on a harsh anti-immigration platform and needs killin’, for the benefit of all of Machete’s people. Machete agrees to take the job but is once again set up—-and now he’s really pissed. With support both lawful (an ICE agent played by Jessica Alba) and not-so-much (a taco-truck-running revolutionary of a “network” of illegals, played by Michelle Rodriguez), Machete wages war against the corrupt politicians who want to keep their kind out of the U.S. for good.
Co-written by the director’s cousin Alvaro Rodriguez (and co-helmed by newcomer Ethan Maniquis), Machete offers way more story than you’d expect from what should merely be hyperviolent, low-rent trash—-which immediately makes it superior to both Planet Terror and Death Proof, the grindhouse-style films by Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino that the original Machete trailer helped link three years ago. Though the genre is fun, it’s immensely more satisfying when there’s a respectable (to use the word loosely) plot to keep all the gratuitousness from becoming repetitive.
And make no mistake, Machete is gratuitous. In the opening minutes alone, there are flamethrowers, naked chicks, and blood splattered as body parts are sliced clean off. The bloodletting never stops, with Machete, at one wonderfully high (or low) point, swinging out a window via a bad guy’s intestine. Lindsay Lohan appears as the businessman’s daughter, who makes sex tapes with her mom and is almost always naked (though, in one scene involving a three-way, it appears a body double was used). And the racial digs are constant, delivered both by the Mexicans themselves but more shockingly by De Niro’s senator (a melodramatically narrated ad compares immigrants to “parasites infecting our country”).
It’s all so exuberantly and unrelentingly wrong, there’s no time to get offended between your gasps and/or guffaws—-and then there’s that legitimate message sneaked in supporting open borders. The titular hombre himself is a Mexican Terminator, so efficiently deadly and indestructible that he’s already known as a legend. Which allows Rodriquez to counter all the outlandishness with some occasional dry humor, such as when a shaken villain says, “Machete sent me a text.”