Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don't Say Much and Carry a Big Knife. You'll Do Fine.

On a hot summer night several years ago, a group of dudes sat around a card table with a superior stash of booze and a lot of time to kill. One of the dudes, Robert (it’s his house, see) says to the group, “man, somebody should make a movie about a disgraced Mexican dude who used to work for the U.S. government on stuff too dirty for them to risk their own people on.” His idea gets instant support from the bleary-eyed duderage assembled around a pretty boring game of 5 card stud. QT, already close to passing out, says, “YEAH! And he should carry around a huge machete and kill people with it!” Again, props come immediately. You’d have a tougher time getting an amen in a Pentecostal church than you would saying anything to this group.

If this isn’t the way that the idea for Machete was conceived, then it’s got to be pretty close.

If you read this blog, you know that I'm pretty particular. I'm not going to go and just see anything that's out. If a film doesn’t appeal to my taste/sensibilities, I’m not going to go out of some sense of obligation that I need to see “everything.” But you probably know much (if not all) of this already.

Look, dudes. Machete ROCKS. I hadn’t planned to see it, but found myself on an outing with a friend and it was one of the only films on the marquee that I hadn’t seen that seemed at all interesting.

Robert Rodriguez is a bit of an outsider as far as Hollywood goes, and that’s a good thing. The concept and title character for Machete debuted as one of the fabled fake trailers in the underachiever that was Grindhouse. Expanded to feature-length, Machete is one of the more enjoyable films I’ve seen all year, and just might sneak its way onto my Best of 2010 list. No promises.

Now for the laundry list: the performances service the film pretty well. Look, if you’d told me beforehand that I’d see Steven Seagal AND Lindsay Lohan in a film and actually be able to look at them without feeling an unbearable sense of sadness, I would have disagreed. Possibly strongly so. Robert De Niro has a lot of fun with the role of a ridiculously corrupt senator with a penchant for approving hilarious campaign ads. And Cheech Marin almost steals the movie as a wonderfully colorful man of the cloth. He’s got a line of dialogue that’s one of the best I’ve heard all year. I’d reproduce it here, but kids and Catholics visit this site.

Danny Trejo manages to sell almost every inch of the Machete character by playing the guy completely straight. There are no winks or nods to the camera here, thank goodness. I am in awe of the way that a grizzled, tattooed, (dare I even say) ugly man manages to spend quality time with Michelle Rodriguez, Lohan, Alicia Rachel Marek, AND Jessica Alba within the stretch of 1 hour and 45 minutes. Jerk. I am curious, however, about the remarkable ability of an unmanned movie camera’s ability to zoom in on some of the hanky-panky. An aside? Yes, but still something I noticed.

Another thing that’s worth noting is the film’s political bent. Think you’re just going to watch a movie about a lot of splatter? Rodriguez is NOT happy about the situation at the Southern border of the United States, and he’s not shy about it. That said, Machete is not without a sense of humor at the expense of all involved, which is great, as the somewhat preachy quality of the politics gets offset by some inspired sight gags.

Machete is a gory, hilarious, rip-roaring throwback to the grand tradition of the B picture. Your $11 (or less, if you’re a not a city slicker) could be spent much, much worse. My hat is off, my shortest, squattest digit is upraised, and my understanding of the human intestinal tract has been expanded. What more could you want from a movie like this?

4 stars (out of 5)

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