Sincere Mayhem and Concerns
Machete started off as a fake trailer in the stunt double-feature Grindhouse, one of four such trailers in which ironic humor was the name of the game. While the full-length movies in Grindhouse were presented with a mix of irony and a surprising amount of straightforwardness, the trailers took the opportunity to fully lampoon the aesthetics of the exploitation flicks they pretended to represent. The "Machete" trailer, about a really mean-looking doublecrossed Mexican avenger (Danny Trejo), was a standout piece of comedy, so one assumed when its director, Robert Rodriguez, announced he was making it into a real movie, that film would also be an irony-laden piece of nonsense -- one making fun of the kind of movie it was dressed up to be.
That description wouldn't be wholly inaccurate, but the more Rodriguez movies one watches, the more one realizes his goofy sense of humor is coming from a very sincere place. I now believe Rodriguez (who co-directed Machete with Ethan Maniquis, usually his co-editor) truly doesn't have irony in his heart -- he knows what it is enough to make a very funny 3-minute trailer, but when he makes the whole movie, he pours his genuine passion, real goofy humor, and true love of outrageous violence into it. Such is Machete, in which its expected ridiculous moments -- naked girls, sudden beheadings, bad lines -- are presented with actual appreciative glee instead of with malicious mockery.
More revealing of Rodriguez's sincere approach comes from his movie's actual concerns -- yes, Machete has concerns. This film has much to do with the illegal immigration mess, particularly along the Texas/Mexico border. Here, irony is indeed conscientiously and skillfully used, but mainly as a mitigating factor in what should be a non-serious film. The right-wing American characters are presented in such a cartoonish way -- Robert De Niro (yes, Robert De Niro) as a senator with an overdone Texan accent, Don Johnson (yes, Don Johnson -- this movie's cast is crazy, going from Lindsay Lohan to Steven Seagal) as a vigilante border patroller who would dare to shoot pregnant border crossers -- that it serves to remind us these are just movie characters and no one is probably this crazy; and the plot, which eventually reveals the bad guys to be part a web of profit-minded American politicians mixed up with Mexican drug lords, might say the corruption can't possibly be this ludicrous.
Or can it? The concerns themselves are real enough, and even when delivered through this rather silly movie they still manage to deliver the criticism that the illegal immigrantion debate is often used as an inflammatory topic to help politicians in their careers while masking potentially greater concerns underneath. Also, perhaps most urgently, the issue tends to strip humanity from its equations, and Machete is keen to remind us the real people affected by this debate still deserve to be treated like real people. Yes, this might be a bit strange, given that reality is definitely not what anyone is going for in this movie, but Rodriguez can't help being who he is, and that is something to smile about. He means it whether he's delivering a dose of honest Mexican pride, absurd gags, or over-the-top mayhem featuring blood, guts, knives, explosions, and missile launchers. He's in his groove when he's giving us a combination of them all.
(Released by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and rated "R" for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.