When I first heard of Robert Rodriguez many years ago, it was when he was mostly known as the director of El Mariachi (1992), an amazing and violent Spanish-language movie about a mariachi who was mistaken for a killer. He later went on to create the American "sequel", Desperado (1995), a fantastic movie itself, starring Antonio Banderas and Selma Hayek, which built upon the story of the mariachi desperado. Finally, a third film was made in the loose trilogy, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, in which el mariachi gets involved in yet another convoluted murderous plot starring, in addition to Banderas and Hayek, Johnny Depp.
Like the Mariachi trilogy, Robert Rodriguez's career has gone from Spanish-language films to Americanized films, to American popcorn films. The same man who brought us the ultraviolent El Mariachi has more recently brought us the Spy Kids trilogy and Sin City (a decent film in its own right, but closer to popcorn than filmhouse). With Grindhouse, he attempted to bring back the camp with co-director Quentin Tarantino. Rodriguez's portion, an apocalypse zombie flick called Planet Terror, was an interesting homage to old school B-films, albeit one that had its share of problems. Machete, meanwhile, was the outgrowth of one of the fake previews attached to the Grindhouse films.
On its own Machete is an interesting film. Ostensibly, the story is about a former Federale, Machete played by Robert Rodriguez alum Danny Trejo, who gets wrapped up in a political assassination and immigration issues in Texas. The movie, like Grindhouse, was intentionally done in a camp style meant to imitate B-movies of days past. As a pure homage, it works in its own ways. As a film, it falls short.
Don't come to Machete expecting sincere acting, a well-planned storyline, or believable action. Come instead for the oddity that is seeing A-list actors (and some not A-list actors) doing hack jobs in D-list parts. The story itself is not bad, necessarily. Suspension of belief is necessary in heavy doses, but overall, the story is interesting in a sex and violence sort of way. But if the movie lacked its amazing cast, the novelty of B-list homage would quickly become little more than a gimmick. The story on its own just cannot carry the weight of this movie.
About that cast. Robert Rodriguez used several actors from previous movies. Cheech Marin, for instance, is a Rodriguez regular, as is Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez and James Fahey (for you L O S T fans, those last two are cop Ana Lucia and pilot Lapidus). But much more intriguing is the involvement of Robert De Niro, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Alba, and, to a lesser extent, Don Johnson and Steven Segal.
Once could guess why Johnson and Segal would accept roles in this schlocky film. Both could probably use the career boost and/or the paycheck. Oddly (or interestingly) Segal turned down a role in the Expendables, so apparently he has some ability to turn down a script, but on the other hand, Rodriguez, as a director, has a bit more cred.
The real oddity is the involvement of De Niro, Lohan and Alba. Deniro plays a local politician with a poor Texas accent and an over-the-top anti-immigration demeanor. Frankly, he is miscast, and the entire time, he just seems out of place amongst the poor acting and slapdash plot. I am no longer the fan of De Niro I once was (movies like Analyze That will do that to you), and this goes into the category of films De Niro seems to be in for the paycheck. I will give the writers and casting some credit though. De Niro's Texas accent is piss-poor, to the extent that it can be a distraction, but late in the script, the character admits that he isn't even from Texas and is faking the accent. Nice save.
The story behind Lohan's involvement is somewhat obvious. She needed the money and a chance to be in an actual movie again, and this was her chance. Unfortunately for her, she has very few lines and certainly none worth actually "acting." In fact, she seemed to be crammed into the plot as a straight-up novelty. She isn't even in her best scene, that being when she and the actress playing her mother make out with Machete while topless in a pool. Yes, that looks like Lohan topless, but its a body double.
But what about Alba? To be fair, Alba seems to pick her movies by throwing a dart out the window and accepting a script from whoever the dart hits. For example, Little Fockers, Valentine's Day, The Love Guru, Good Luck Chuck, The Eye, and Into the Blue. I leave out Honey because she shows her midriff enough that it gets a pass. Frankly, that list explains it all. Alba does not know how to pick a movie, and this one is no exception.
To me, Alba's stock is hit the hardest by this movie. She plays an extremely one-dimensional role using one-dimensional acting. You could argue that this is part of the B-movie allure, but there is a way to pay homage without abandoning all logic. Nothing her character does makes sense, and Alba delivers her lines in a way that makes her character even less believable.
This movie is probably ideal for the 3.5" screen and 15-minutes-at-a-time viewing schedule permitted by my iPod and train trip to work. You can pick it up and enjoy the cheesiness of it all without worrying about things like plot or continuity. Even so, I still give this one a 4 out of 10 in general, and a 6 out of 10 for iPod viewing.
Until next time, keep 'em 3.5"!