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The title character in Machete is not the Uncle Machete audiences were introduced to in writer/director Robert Rodriquez’s kid-friendly Spy Kids series. Although both characters are played by the same dude, craggy-faced Danny Trejo, this Machete is as if someone tied him up and was made to watch as the entire Spy Kid family was brutally murdered.

This Machete (pronounced “ma-chet-ay”) has deeper scars than the craters on the actor's distinctive mug. Violence is merely an outlet for the raging inferno within his granite frame. It’s a role that Trejo has hounded Rodriguez to make into a feature film since 2007's Grindhouse, when the character was introduced in one of many mock trailers that helped sell the tone of those 70's exploitation flicks.

That trailer, also directed by Rodriguez, became the fan-favorite and is now the first to be made into a feature-length film. Anyone anticipating this film will get exactly what they expect, and then some. It’s just as gratingly over-the-top and silly as Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and may even be bloodier and more depraved than you might expect. Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis inject the same grimy tone and insane action with a walking-tall plot that satirizes the current immigration (or anti-immigration) fervor.

The film gets off to a brutal start with Machete (Danny Trejo), as a Mexican federale who can only watch as local druglord Torres (Steven Seagal) leaves him for dead after slaughtering his wife. Shattered and discarded, Machete works random day labor jobs in south Texas. He’s approached by sleazy local businessman Booth (Jeff Fahey), who throws $150,000 at him to get him to assassinate controversial immigration opponent Senator McLaughlin (a hammy Robert De Niro), a gig he realizes he can’t turn down. It becomes quite obvious how bad luck is as attracted to Machete as a fly is to a turd.

Machete is double-crossed and set-up, finding himself hounded by persistent immigration officer Sartana (Jessica Alba) and in the crosshairs of Von Stillman (Don Johnson listed as “and Introducing” in the retro opening credits), a militant border cop. He receives the unlikely aid of Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a mysterious Che Guevara-like urban legend known as She, who runs an underground network that supports illegals.

On the run from Booth and his goons, Machete also gets help from his Padre brother (Cheech Marin) and winds up kidnapping Booth’s wife and daughter (Lindsay Lohan), hoping blackmail will help his thirst for vengeance. As the myth of Machete becomes bigger than the man, the film’s conclusion plows through an enormous body count that leads to the inevitable yet laughable showdown with Torres.

Ultimately, cardboard characters and stereotypical subplots congest a faux border-line message movie that knows it’s just a violently funny pulp parody. While the best part of the film is the casting of Trejo as Machete, it’s too bad former Spy Kid Daryl Sabara, and horror mainstay Tom Savini as a 1-800-HITMAN, are included as mere throwaway characters . Sure, they’re written for laughs and, yes, they’re funny, even if Sabara is unconvincing as a former gangbanger. But most of the time I found myself thinking that the situations and reactions to Machete’s predicaments would’ve been funny enough on their own.

Rodriguez is all about the overkill, though, and this shows most of all in the many kills we see on-screen. Among the decapitations and amputations, there are some scenes where you may find yourself losing your stomach.

Just how far is Rodriguez willing to take you? Well, there’s the scene where Machete escapes a hospital corridor by disemboweling an enemy and using his intestine to rappel out a window. We’re also given a scene early on in the film with a naked chica who, after ambushing Machete, calls in her victory with a cell phone that’s stored in her hoo-ha. Whoa.

I give Rodriguez credit for his audacity, his creative editing as well as his CG-enhanced visuals, but I didn’t need the camera to wink at every sharp object possible. I can deduce on my own that any variety of items lying around, from corkscrew to weed wacker, will be used as a weapon in this glorious Mexploitation schlock.

The campy stock characterization by Rodriguez and co-writer/cousin Álvaro Rodriguez prevents a viewer from seriously considering the controversy of the movie's views on immigration. The obvious empathy toward the illegal laborers oppressed by American extremists and racist politicians is exhausted by rote, often illogical exposition.

I know, what could possibly be logical about anything in this kind of movie? I’m well aware of such a question but that didn’t stop me from wanting Rodriguez and company to take these characters and their story in a slightly more serious direction.

Since Trejo is so commanding and convincing in his role, the stakes of the film could have matched his oily authenticity to deliver something more threatening. But that’s impossible when Machete, as the renegade anti-hero, embodies the only real threat.

It would have been nice to see Machete face a formidable foe instead of the bloated mess we get with Seagal. He’s as much of a joke as Lohan is, but at least money was saved on her wardrobe costs. It’s really sad to see how much Lohan resembles her tabloid-saturated real life here; even sadder, it’s not much of a surprise. Thankfully, Rodriguez (Michelle, that is), Fahey and Alba, deliver the appropriate amount of gusto in their well-suited roles.

Walking out of the theater after the screening, I had a better appreciation for MacGruber, a misunderstood albeit funnier film from earlier this summer which had better comic timing. Any gripes I have though are fruitless since Rodriguez and Trejo serve audiences exactly what they want.

I may be on the fence about many of the films that come out from Troublemaker Studios (the house of Rodriguez) but I can appreciate his talent and bravado. I was entertained, I laughed, I was shocked and would recommend Machete….to the right people, maybe those who like “Itchy and Scratchy” type-violence. It could be that watching this so soon after the bloodshed of Piranha 3D, that I may have hit my limit of provocative absurdity, at least for now.

(This review also appears on David's own website, Keeping It Reel.)

David J. Fowlie

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