With Machete, auteur Robert Rodriguez is up to old and new tricks—and “tricks” is an operative word for this crafty, film-conscious artist, who has found a way to mix the indie film spirit with his well-paid Tinseltownie persona. While he has ventured into “straighter” work in Hollywood, Rodriguez has also steadily worked toward his seeming goal of wannabe B-movie king, starting with his career-launching shoestring-budget debut, El Mariachi, through to his cheesy-bloody art-house pulp fiction flick Planet Terror, half of the kitsch-loving Grindhouse.
Just as El Mariachi relished its scrappy B-movie edges and jittery implosive and explosive violence, Machete both celebrates and satirizes the tradition of the B-movie ’70s urban warrior, who gets his girl(s) and easily lays waste to evil-doers. In this case, the righteous cause behind the over-the-top narrative is ripe and timely, dealing with injustice and immigration issues on the Texas/Mexico border.
Our first hint that ulterior genre-goosing motives are buzzing beneath the movie is its trailer, a faux preview for a nonexistent film (until now) that ran in the middle of Grindhouse—actually directed by collaborator Quentin Tarantino. In the finished film, humming with hand-to-hand violence, killer blade play, and no small amount of social commentary, the protagonist is the hulking man they call Machete (Danny Trejo, making the leap from character actor to star very nicely).
Very much unlike B-movies of old, though, Rodriguez has great fun playing around with a cast of classic actors, including Robert De Niro as a comically pernicious and drawling politician, Steven Seagal as oily, creepy druglord (he really is better, or more tolerable, in villain mode), and Don Johnson as a vigilante baddie. Lindsay Lohan—really a marvelous actress waiting to begin her career, proper—appears as a trampy daughter of another kill-happy political operative, and Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez play kick-ass women on opposite ends of the legal system, with socio-racial justice on their minds—and occasional bedtime with Machete. Gotta love it, in both ironic and serious ways.