Robert Rodriguez proves with “Machete” that his and Tarantino’s little experiment entitled “Grindhouse” was much more of a failure than fans originally suspected. While both of their original films were basic flops at the box-office, Rodriguez is given another shot with “Machete” a film that began life in popularity as a mock grindhouse trailer before “Planet Terror” and eventually became a feature length film. And much like most of Rodriguez’ films, he takes what could have been an amazing premise and turns it in to a scattered, confusing, and muddled piece of action cinema that throws a host of characters at the screen, all of whom he can barely keep up with at one time.
“Machete” may prove that the mock trailers are better left alone as mock trailers, and Rodriguez has to literally take a five minute series of grindhouse cliches and turn it in to a ninety minute revenge flick that is never sure if it’s satirizing or dissecting the immigration debate in the end. Rodriguez wants to have it both ways, and the narrative ultimately feels scatter brained and convoluted. And the sad fact is that “Machete” is in many ways just an iteration of Rodriguez’ “Desperado” except he relies on Danny Trejo to pick up the slack instead of Antonio Banderas. Banderas was fit for the role with a suave demeanor, inner rage, and grace that made him a force to be reckoned with while Trejo is less of an individual who isn’t as engrossing as Machete as I’d originally presumed he’d be.
Meanwhile Rodriguez relies on a lot of little self-indulgent asides and goofy running jokes, none of which are ever all that captivating. He finds an excuse to include his family in the entire movie (his really hot nieces Electra and Elise Avellan make groan inducing cameos as nurses, Tom Savini and Daryl Sabara make appearances, even Nimrod Antal director of “Predators” makes an appearance), and there’s an unusual joke about Mexican food where every character has at least one scene where they’re forcing bad Mexican food down their gullet. Some characters even stop in their tracks to deliver a bad joke about Mexicans that becomes so predictable I expected George Lopez to jump in front of the screen and perform his stand up routine any minute.
As for the supporting cast they leave much to be desired as Rodriguez goes on name appeal more so than cult appeal. Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert DeNiro, Jeff Fahey, all give truly yawn inducing performances (Lindsay Lohan’s role could have been played by literally anyone) never really holding the weight of the film’s purported style and grindhouse decor afloat while Rodriguez simply loses sight of the film’s intent throughout the narrative. Rather than simply offering up a goofy revenge film, Rodriguez takes every chance to explore immigration giving a heavy hand to such a goofy concept, while Trejo doesn’t seem all too excited to be playing this role. Rodriguez should be approaching this action film like he did “Planet Terror,” but takes it much too seriously sapping the energy and excitement from the proceedings at the same time.
By the time the finale rolls around “Machete” is too much of a clusterfuck to really enjoy and soak in, and Rodriguez makes a point that sometimes a joke is best told in a certain time frame and not extended in to one long boring set-up. I’m all for a Danny Trejo vehicle, but with the proper team behind it; with twenty minutes shaved off, a darkly comedic tone, and much less finger wagging at the audience about immigration, “Machete” would have been a brutally entertaining and fantastic revenge film, but as it stands it’s just sub-par, heavy handed, muddled, and yet another Rodriguez action lemon that digs the Grindhouse concept in to a further grave the original film planted in 2007.