Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal, Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, and Michelle Rodriguez in Machete (2010)


(directors: Robert Rodriguez/Ethan Maniquis; screenwriters: Robert Rodriguez/Álvaro Rodriguez; cinematographer: Jimmy Lindsey; editors: Robert Rodriguez/Rebecca Rodriguez; music: Chingon; cast: Danny Trejo (Machete), Steven Seagal (Torrez), Michelle Rodriguez (Luz), Jeff Fahey (Booth), Cheech Marin (Padre), Lindsay Lohan (April), Alicia Rachel Marek (June), Don Johnson (Lt. Von Stillman), Jessica Alba (Sartana), Robert De Niro (Senator McLaughlin), Shea Whigham (Sniper); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Robert Rodriguez/Elizabeth Avellán/Rick Schwartz; 20th Century Fox; 2010)

Robert De Niro, Lindsay Lohan and Steven Seagal all give equally stilted performances, and if you didn’t know better you would think all three thespians were losers.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Rodriguez (“El Mariachi”)and Ethan Maniquis co-direct this grisly, nonsensical, and cynical Mexploitation pic that has little entertainment value to gain from its crass jokes and no social redeeming value despite trying to make a naive political statement about illegals as valued immigrants. It makes its case for the illegals getting the shaft by goofing around with its stereotyped oddball cartoonish characters and inundating us with a bloodbath scenario to appeal to the usual suspects who can’t get enough gratuitous violence in their lives. It’s the kinda pic featuring wall-to-wall gruesome cartoonish violence to titillate the viewer with sundry brutal ways to maim the many vics; in other words it’s an homage to poorly made grindhouse films. The film’s fun is to watch a few machete be-headings, a vile but kindly priest (Cheech Marin) shooting it out with drug gang enforcers and then crucified in his church, and a climactic bloody gang war between the good guy Mexican illegals and the bad guy white vigilante group. No one comes through this sordid film unscathed, it takes everyone down to its low level of filmmaking. “Machete” says the system is broken and weighs in with an overcooked and unfathomable plot line and a one-sided simplistic take on the controversial immigration issues, and gorges itself on dumb clichés and with slice and dice bloodshed throughout and with sick jokes that sneer at the establishment.

Robert De Niro, Lindsay Lohan and Steven Seagal all give equally stilted performances, and if you didn’t know better you would think all three thespians were losers. Machete originated as a 3-minute fake trailer to Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s ’70s-exploitation-movie homage to grindhouse films and stays true to form as a trailer that never feels right as a feature B film, yet begs to become a franchise with expected sequels if the public buys into this sloppily made over-the-top action/comedy pic. If you must see this pic, I would recommend catching the fake trailer–it runs for only a few minutes and covers the same ground as the film.

The plot line has Machete (Danny Trejo, the ugly pock-mocked 66-year-old Mexican-American actor’s first leading role), an intrepid Mexican Federale, disobeying his corrupt police bosses and going after powerful Mexican drug cartel kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal). Their opening confrontation rewards the audience with countless dead, as Machete slices his way through Torrez’s henchmen. Pained because Torrez beheaded his wife in front of him and later his daughter in an offscreen execution, the story picks up three years later and the fired Federale turns up at a Texas border town as an illegal looking for work as a day laborer.

A white stranger named Booth (Jeff Fahey) forces Machete to take $150,000 to assassinateextremist anti-immigrant state senator, Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), who is campaigning to be a senator by using hate-spewing rhetoric. But Machete is set-up in a double-cross as the fall guy and escapes his execution after another assassin shoots the candidate in the leg and thereby the underdog candidate immediately gains a large sympathy vote as voters react in the poll numbers against the Mexican assassin and McLaughlin is now the favorite. Machete then hooks up with Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who sells tacos out of a truck, at the site where the illegals look for work, and on the side operates a network for the illegals. Immigration and customs agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) slowly comes around to defending Machete and Luz when she learns through secret tapes that Booth is a big-time drug trafficker connected to Torrez and is the right-hand man for the racist Senator McLaughlin, and the trio bond together to do their own thing in taking down the racists. The devious gringo Booth believes that by making it harder for illegals to come into the country, it will drive up the price of drugs and bring him greater profits. Torrez through Booth also financed a racist and trigger-happy vigilante group headed by Lt. Von Stillman (Don Johnson), who openly support Senator McLaughlin and make videos showing them together gunning down illegals at the border. It all leads to a stylized comical gang fight with the low-riders vs. the high-riders in their pickups.

The cheesy comical gorefest movie reduces everyone, including its bad-assed honest hero, Machete, to a roach. It’s an exploitation film meant to cash in on the recent immigration controversy. As political satire, it’s too juvenile and scattered to push anyone’s buttons on either side of the controversy. It’s just an empty pic filled with kinky sex and torture scenes that tries to get some laughs over its relentless violence and from caricature figures like Lindsay Lohan playing the spoiled rich slutty daughter of the venal, greedy and perverted American power broker Fahey and the hammy De Niro as an amalgam type of most right-wing Texas politicians (especially of George W. Bush).

The film’s funniest line has Trejo say in a matter of fact but emphatic tone that “Machete don’t text.”

Machete is co-written by Rodriguez and his cousinÁlvaro Rodriguez.