Danny Trejo (Predators) is a badass. His 20-year career is based on the fact that he is the most intimidating man in just about any room. Trejo’s visceral presence inspired filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids) to make his frequent collaborator an action movie star. At 66, however, Trejo is rapidly moving from grizzled action hero to curmudgeon.
Machete is an extended version of the fake trailer that Robert Rodriguez added to his half of the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse double feature. Alas, the trailer is far superior to the film. Trejo plays an ex-federale, codename Machete, whose family was killed by evil drug lord Torrez (a horribly miscast Steven Seagal; Flight of Fury). Now an illegal alien living in Texas, Machete takes an assassination job from a shady politico (Jeff Fahey; Lost) and becomes a pawn in a war that involves innocent illegal immigrants, racist politicians, psychotic border guards and the drug dealer who killed his family.
It is — needlessly so. The beauty of Machete the trailer was its simplicity. It promised sex, drugs and gratuitous violence. But now Rodriguez wants to lecture you on the plight of illegal immigrants — after showing you a five-minute shot of a topless Lindsay Lohan (I Know Who Killed Me).
Lohan — who in a brilliant piece of casting plays a drug-addled wannabe actress — is just the first in an inexplicable number of naked, heaving-chest women in dire need of Machete’s help both in and out of the bedroom. In a cast that features five male leads over the age of 50, the oldest featured female character is 32 (Michelle Rodriguez; Avatar) Not to worry: Rodriguez ends up in a leather bra before credits role.
Jessica Alba’s (The Fantastic Four) tough-as-nails ICE-cop is particularly egregious here. Alba minces through her scenes sporting stiletto heels and a vacant wide-eyed expression, about as physically and mentally intimidating as a napping kitten.
Another action film that dusted off relic actors who peaked physically about 20 years ago, The Expendables, was far more successful with action sequences. One reason may be the use of guns. A rapid blast from a machine gun looks tough no matter how old the shooter is.
Machete, who relies on his eponymous blade, seems labored and tired as he slices through stunt man after stunt man. By the time Seagal waddles onto the screen for a climactic fight with Machete, I was convinced that Rodriguez filmed the action in slow motion because his stars were battling rheumatism as well as each other. The entirety of Machete could be an action movie sponsored by Centrum Silver.
Still, Machete would be fun blood and guts fare if it stopped pushing the illegal immigration message. It’s hard to thrill at Robert De Niro’s Dubya impression when he’s shooting pregnant Mexican women trying to cross the border. Rodriguez clearly believes fervently in an open-border policy. Without wading into the debate, I question whether an illegal immigrant who juliennes white men every 10 minutes is the best way to win hearts and minds.
This is not to say that a film can’t push the debate on immigration — but perhaps it should be saved for a movie less obsessed with boobies and gore.