Day Late Dollar Short Movie Reviews: Machete

Since my college days during the advent of internet movie reviews, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have that job. I like movies, I like talking about things, and I can and do enjoy  movies of just about every genre. Now that I have this here blog, I figured I’d finally get around to writing some – the problem being that I now seldom see movies when they come out and reviews matter. That’s why I’ve titled this feature “Day Late Dollar Short Movie Reviews.” Movie news you probably can’t use!

A few days ago my brother told me he was going to see Machete. If he hadn’t I probably would have forgotten it was even out.  I loved the Grindhouse trailer, I’m generally a bit fan of the ‘sploitation revival, and when I heard they were making a full movie I was ridiculously gleeful, but that anticipation faded in the intervening months.

Machete is a movie where Danny Trejo kills a lot of people, primarily with the titular machete (though there’s more variety in his methods than the title implies). There are some hot women in it. If that’s all you want, you won’t be disappointed. The violence in Machete is super mega over-the-top; the problem is that the rest of the movie can’t seem to keep up the same pace. There are long stretches where it starts to take itself far too seriously, and instead of a ‘sploitational romp it feels like a mediocre action drama. Most of these interminable interludes contain Jessica Alba.

I don’t want to hate Jessica Alba. She seems like a nice enough person, but I’ve seen a bunch of her movies and she hasn’t played a character in any of them. She doesn’t play a character in this one either, and she’s the least interesting of Machete’s conquests.  It’s too bad, because this kind of movie would have been the perfect opportunity to parody her status as a highly-ogleable female while exploiting it to its very limit. Instead, her subplot tends to be more serious and restrained, so most of the time when she’s on screen the action slows to a crawl and the humor fades into the background.

I enjoyed Michelle Rodriguez’s role much more. She hauled out the same old acting job she always does, but unlike Alba she was able to make it read as both a typical performance and a parody. I just wish they’d given her a bit more to do. The same thing goes for Cheech Marin. He has some of the best scenes in the original trailer and the film itself, but they just feel like a window into a better movie – one with more one liners and fewer shots of Jessica Alba trying to act like she’s conflicted about her job.

Danny Trejo’s performance is a bit harder to analyze. While he’s the perfect badass in every action scene, he sometimes looks lost or bored in the non-action scenes. I’m not sure if I can blame him… the script really doesn’t give him a chance to do anything he does well during the movie’s more serious subplots, so maybe his strategy of just riding them out is really for the best.

Despite the original trailer’s seventies visuals, Machete takes place in the year 2010. In some ways this makes sense, with all the current hysteria about anchor babies and border fences, but I think that the director let the modern timeline muddy the movie’s aesthetic. When I heard about the movie’s chronological jump, I was wondering if you could shoot a movie that was realistically set in modern times while preserving a classic pulp aesthetic. This movie didn’t answer that question, since it essentially scrapped its original stylistic groove for a look that doesn’t do much to distinguish it from other movies made recently. Props for not caving and going 3D with it, though.

All this criticism makes it sound like I didn’t like the movie at all, and that’s not true. It was enjoyable enough 80% of the time, but the 20% where I was checking my non-existent watch gave me plenty of time to come up with ways the movie could have been better. Maybe the original trailer made me set my expectations too high – I wanted a ridiculous exploitation period piece or a modern unselfconscious unthinking ultraviolence… um… uxstravaganza, and this movie is neither of those things. If you’re looking for a perfect callback to everything you loved about the 70s grindhouse, you’re better off watching Black Dynamite. If you’re looking for nothing but the best mindless violence and nostalgia money can buy, watch the Expendables. If you just want to see a guy kill some motherfuckers without any real consistent aesthetic, Machete will deliver some good times.

Rating System of the week: Letter Grades. I give this one a B-

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