Machete (2010) is a feature length expansion of the brilliant, initially faux trailer that was spliced between director Rodriguez and buddy Quentin Tarantino exploitation homage Grindhouse (2007). Starring Danny Trejo as the titular character, with accompaniment from a host of recognisable names and faces, Machete is the tale of an ex-Federale who is double-crossed when trying to assassinate a Texan senator (Robert De Niro, no less) and does the only think an exploitation star is really employed to do – take revenge.
There are many problems with the feature length Machete, and the first point to be noted is one of an inescapable problematic. The fact remains that Rodriguez is too good a director and too stylistically driven to make something that attempts to recreate what is really intentionally throwaway cinema. Expectation was immediate when Machete was announced and it is perfectly acceptable for Rodriguez to choose to be the one who brings his own cinematic creation to full length; however, to do this correctly and probably as befits the cinema he is trying to recreate Rodriguez needs to be less Rodriguez; in other words, to evoke a certain style, Rodriguez needed to refrain from using his own.
Secondly, the film needed to build a context around images that were two minutes of highlights viewed in the trailer, for example the infamous Gatling gun motorcycle or Cheech Marin as the gun-toting priest ‘Padre’. These two examples in fact exemplify the hit-and-miss nature of Machete. The former moment, underwhelming in an generally underwhelming final battle that seems to take its cues from the infamous mid-point battle in Anchorman (2004); the latter, absolutely fantastic as Marin goes tête-à-tête with SFX guru Tom Savini – inspired set pieces despite Rodriguez’s stylised insistence.
The third problem surprisingly comes courtesy of the casting. Whereas Rodriquez’s Planet Terror and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) successfully mixed distinct presences- Fred Williamson shooting it up with George Clooney springs to mind, or indeed the partnership of Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn – Machete tries to include as many into the pot as possible; with each actor introduced the presence of another is diminished. The film has fun introducing the huge array of actors but eventually tires of them individually and becomes confused with how much each should be used.
Overall, Machete is an enjoyable film, but whereas the original trailer was faithfully recreated, the array of stars (and most far from ‘B-movie’) detracts from the overall experience of a successful evocation of an exploitation film. To paraphrase Quentin Tarantino in the exploitation book What it Was! What it Is!, all American films are exploitation films in a way, but the difference with low-budget productions is that they emphasise exploiting sex and violence due to the fact they do not have stars to sell a movie- this is not appropriate for Machete.
With the film promoting its sequels at the end of the film, one yearns for the first time for a straight-to-video back-to-basics sequel to truly restrict certain excesses and in turn truly evoke the characteristics that defined the height of the desired exploitation era.