In its first five minutes Machete serves up five beheadings, a dozen gunshot victims, a couple of severed limbs, a car crashing through a wall, and a beautiful naked woman stabbing someone then getting shot in the head herself. Oh, and Steven Seagal.
None of this is playfully teased off camera like most Hollywood action films. In Robert Rodriguez‘s latest shoot ‘em up (and stab ‘em up), the blood and guts fill the screen. Machete, the movie and title character, makes no apologies about using a man’s disemboweled large intestine as a rope to escape from a tall building. No apologies for a priest blowing a man’s head into tiny pieces with a pump-action shotgun. Certainly no apologies for a swimming pool threesome.
But that’s the fun of this movie. It’s so over-the-top and ridiculous that you can’t help but come along for the bloody ride. No one in their right mind will confuse this for “serious” cinema or pedantic storytelling. The potential problem Rodriguez faces at the box office is that this movie also makes no apologies for the political sentiment strewn about this two-hour gore fest. And there are a lot of people walking around who aren’t in their right mind.
As I exited the theater, another viewer commented that it was refreshing to see Rodriguez—the director of the Spy Kids franchise—getting political. The San Antonio native and Austin film hero has never shied from gore in his films (From Dusk Til Dawn, Once Upon A Time In Mexico). But this is the first time we’ve seen the gore used in a film that, to say the least, will make some audiences uncomfortable because of the perceived message of the movie.
In Machete, ultra-badass Danny Trejo portrays an ex-Mexican-federale-turned-undocumented-day-laborer who is double-crossed during an assassination attempt. He spends the rest of the film getting revenge—bloody, bloody revenge—against his wealthy, white betrayers.
There’s lots of pseudo-Mechista language, including the clichéd, “We didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us.” If released in theaters a decade ago, Machete‘s faux-pro-Mexican war cries wouldn’t be a big deal. The average moviegoer would get the irony of a militant Jessica Alba and the over-the-top nature of it all. But in the era of SB 1070 and fearmongering to sway elections, there are a lot of otherwise relaxed and easygoing people who will go all Rush Limbaugh after walking out of Machete. The Jan Brewers of the world—with their unapologetic lies and laughable disinformation—have planted enough doubt and paranoia into the minds of everyday people that this movie and its director might become a pariah over what is essentially a tribute to ’70s retro-style exploitation cinema. The only headless bodies Arizona’s governor has to worry about are the countless ones found in this movie.
In fact, the closest Machete comes to reflecting reality is having Lindsay Lohan in the role of a drug-addicted party girl. Everything else—from the killer Catholic priest to the corrupt senator to the Che Guevara-inspired She—is just entertainment. Pure mindless, totally fun and worth-your-money entertainment. Reading anything into it beyond that is just silly. So sit back and enjoy Trejo and Michelle Rodriguez kicking ass and taking nombres.