MACHETE is an irresponsible propagandist movie that condones people to break the law in the name of “justice.” Had a movie come out in support of securing our nation’s borders and stopping illegal immigration, it would be deemed racist and decried by the liberal community. However, because 20th Century Fox (and the majority of Hollywood) is left-leaning, a movie that goes beyond criticizing illegal immigration policies by advocating the use of violence is acceptable. Now please don’t get the impression that I think movies should not be allowed to denounce the laws and politicians of this country because that couldn’t be further from the truth. What I take issue with is how a filmmaker and a corporation can think its ok to send a pretty explicit message to its audience that breaking the law is ok.

Robert Rodriguez’s new film stars Danny Trejo, who plays Machete, a former federal agent who sees his family get slaughtered by a Mexican drug lord (Steven Seagal). Machete is presumed to be dead, but he emerges three years later living somewhere in Texas and working as a day laborer. He’s noticed by a Texas businessman (Jeff Fahey), who offers Machete $150,000 to kill a state Senatorial candidate (Robert DeNiro) running on an anti-immigration platform. Machete accepts the offer, but as he’s about to kill the senator, he is set up and now the law is after him. Helping him gain revenge is a revolutionary named She (Michelle Rodriguez) and his brother, Padre (Cheech Marin), a priest.

Rodriguez returns to his DESPARADO roots with this movie. MACHETE is a comic-style action movie that contains over-the-top and highly-stylized sex and violence in the manner of 70’s exploitation films. MACHETE was originally conceived and turned into a trailer for the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez homage to 70’s exploitation films, GRINDHOUSE. Rodriguez apparently felt that MACHETE would make for a great feature-length movie and he set out to make just that. Although MACHETE is very much like DESPARADO, the big difference in MACHETE is its heavily promoted political message. Despite what Rodriguez has said in recent interviews, MACHETE seems to serve as Rodriguez’s soapbox on the illegal immigration issue. Rodriguez recently stated that all he was intending with his movie was to bring back the spirit of exploitation films that used whatever political issue was relevant at the time as an excuse to have a lot of nudity and over-the-top violence. Bullshit! It doesn’t matter what Rodriguez’s intent was in making this movie. Based on what I saw, it seems pretty clear to me and probably to most in the audience that Rodriguez does have something to say about Arizona’s illegal immigration law and the general attitude toward Mexican illegal immigrants. The movie clearly appears to convey a message as well as a proposed solution. I also don’t believe for a second that MACHETE’S theatrical release was merely coincidental with the popular and controversial current debates circling around illegal immigration. Rodriguez must think we are fools if he thinks we will entertain the notion that he had no political agenda in making this film and releasing it now.

Aside from the offensive message of the movie, MACHETE has a few elements that although comical and entertaining to watch at times, they are not enough to sustain interest for the movie’s entire running time. Danny Trejo reminds me of a Mexican Clint Eastwood with his gleaming, deadly eyes and glaring face. Trejo has an undeniably unique and unforgettable look and his Machete character will probably go down as his best role ever. He doesn’t have a whole lot to say, but he doesn’t need to because he is a man of action and when he’s not destroying people, his look is enough to impart whatever his intentions may be. Rodriguez and Trejo have created an iconic looking hero who in a better-crafted film would be an unforgettable one. However, as he’s presented, Machete looks better on a t-shirt or poster than in any sequels Rodriguez may have in mind for the character.

As for the rest of the quite diverse cast, their entertainment value derives more from the novelty of having a famous icon grace the screen than in enjoying the quality of their performance. None of the performances (even De Niro’s) is of an award caliber, but I suppose that would sort of ruin the spirit of exploitation movies, which are known for their terrible acting. I was especially looking forward to seeing whether Steven Seagal would be able to salvage his dead career by playing the drug lord in this movie. Seagal certainly does appear more animated here than he has in a long time, but sadly, its not enough and Seagal ends up being just as bad as any of his recent direct-to-DVD work has been. He couldn’t even provide a good action fight like he used to in the old days. The climactic fight between Machete and Seagal contains so many cuts that I began to suspect the reason for that was so the audience wouldn’t be aware of how much Seagal’s obesity has hindered his fighting abilities. I also wish we saw more of Tom Savini’s character in the movie. Savini plays a hitman that the Texas businessman hires to kill Machete. There is a hilarious commercial that’s shown during the movie promoting the hitman’s services. Unfortunately, the commercial serves merely as a tease because we barely see Savini throughout the rest of the movie. Finally, Lindsay Lohan was surprisingly able to complete her scenes without OD’ing on drugs or drinking herself to death. Then again, her role isn’t much of a stretch for her because she’s essentially playing herself, a spoiled drugged out whore.

One thing I noticed about MACHETE was how inconsistent the style of the movie was. It was clearly intended to be made like a 70’s exploitation film, but other than the opening scene, the rest of the film just plays like a low-budget direct-to-DVD action movie. Rodriguez did a wonderful job with his PLANET TERROR movie that came out a few years ago as a part of GRINDHOUSE. In PLANET TERROR, Rodriguez remained focused on staying true to the spirit of 70’s grindhouse films and including all the elements that defined that genre. Here, we get that in the opening scene of the movie and the rest of the movie has shades of that style, but I felt that Rodriguez got overtaken by his zeal to make a statement about illegal immigration that he sort of neglected to actually make a good movie. Aside from a few very hilarious action sequences and comedic moments, MACHETE is filled with either unimaginative and lazy filmmaking or convoluted storytelling. One thing I really liked about DESPARADO was how simple and straightforward the story was. It was simply about a man seeking his revenge. MACHETE, on the other hand, has all sorts of players involved in a web of political maneuvering that’s not very interesting. If I want to see that sort of movie, I’ll watch an Oliver Stone film.

So there you have it. I didn’t go into MACHETE expecting something different than what I had seen and heard about this movie. I was simply hoping that Rodriguez had dealt with the illegal immigration issue more maturely and been more informative about the legalities and politics behind it (based on what I saw, I don’t think Rodriguez is well informed at all). The filmmaker should have stuck with doing what he knows best, which are these low-budget looking, tongue-in-cheek genre movies. He should stay away from his soapbox unless he learns to be a more responsible filmmaker.

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