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Best part of “Machete” is its star

September 9th, 2010

Director/screenwriter Robert Rodriguez (the mastermind behind “Desperado” and “Sky Kids”) has made the film version of the now-infamous faux trailer “Machete.”  The trailer debuted in the Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino “Grindhouse” double feature. “Machete” is a return to form for Rodriguez in the best way possible, which includes a compelling and informative political plot.

Machete (Danny Trejo) is a Hispanic ex-federale hired by a mysterious stranger named Benz (Jeff Fahey) to kill a U.S. Senator (Robert DeNiro) who plans to harshly deal with illegal immigrants by personally shooting them when they try crossing the border. But during the hit, Machete is double-crossed by Benz (who really works for the Senator) and set up so he could take the fall as a terrorist. In revenge, Machete joins forces with his brother Padre Benito (Cheech Marin) and fellow renegade Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) to take vengeance on Benz and stop the Senator from enacting his plans for the country.

Other roles include Lindsay Lohan (Benz’s druggie daughter), Jessica Alba (a U.S. Immigration officer), Don Johnson (an immigrant-killing vigilante), and Steven Seagal (a vicious druglord).

Rodriguez is a great filmmaker in this film, with moments of a wry sense of humor and an eye for what the traditional action audience wants.

The humor comes from moments like Machete using a man’s intestines to swing from a building, Machete taking advantage of the stereotype that no one ever checks the gardener, and evil minions discussing the plot’s absurdity.

The action, which is nearly as constant and unapologetic as “Rambo,” speaks for itself from just watching the trailer. Composer John Debney’s expressive, pounding score further cements the style.

Trejo, styling himself as the Latino version of Rambo, has literally crashed his way into the exclusive roster of great action stars with his explosive Machete character.

At 68 years-old, it is about time Trejo be awarded a starring role. He brings to life an action star hearkening back to the raw 70’s exploitative films just as Michael Jai White did in 2009’s “Black Dynamite.”

Trejo is the Hispanic Jean-Claude Van Damme – but seemingly doesn’t take himself nearly as seriously (example, the soon-to-be-famous catchphrase “Machete…don’t… text”).

Besides Trejo, it’s Michelle Rodriguez and Jeff Fahey that glow. Rodriguez is at her coolest and sexiest here, showing she can act when she wants to.

Fahey, one of the great later additions to the “Lost” television series, is the best villain of the film and easily outshines DeNiro (who has little to do with the movie until the end).

All the other actor’s performances are adequate, but they do more reacting than acting. And they do that especially well – particularly Don Johnson in his deep-toned villainy.

The misfires of the film (the reasons why it lost a streak for me) were the anti-climatic and clumsy finale, the distracting and annoying Lindsay Lohan appearance, and the tone that at times doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants to do.

In addition, the scenes do not flow together. It doesn’t feel like the all-out action flick it has been marketed to be. Action buffs will quickly grow tired of the talking sequences (even though I did not).

The only complaint I have for the character Machete is that he feels limited by how his actions are directed by the people around him.

I would have liked to see Machete unleashed like he was in the fantastic opening sequence.

But when the film itself loses steam and begins to fall victim to its own self-parody, Trejo brings it all back together when he comes on screen in all his gory glory.

With a stellar performance by Trejo, explosive action scenes, the awesome first sequence, and some great cinematography, “Machete” is old-school pulp fiction.

I just hope that, for the inevitable sequel, Rodriguez actually focuses on a less-restrained Machete who’s willing to go all out on villains unfortunate enough to cross his path.