Back when Grindhouse was released in 2007, both Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino found themselves at ends when their faux Machete trailer garnered more applause than most of their double feature; in a move more Tarantino than himself, Rodriguez announced plans for a feature-length straight-to-DVD Machete film—something fans presumed would never see the light of day thanks to Sin City 2. Well the fans were wrong; the Mexican federale is back, and he’s pissed. This movie is everything Piranha 3-D and Snakes on a Plane should have been—is armed to the teeth with blood, sex, and honest-to-god Mexploitation. If the cutaways of the Cinco de Mayo trailer caused you to doubt Rodriguez’s commitment to over-the-top gory action, let your fears be assuaged—you’ll see everything from decapitations to skull-crushing low-riders, pools of blood to intestine-wrangling. After a Summer mostly filled with shitty knockoffs and uninspired throwbacks like The Expendables, Machete’s blood-stained blades feel like a breath of fresh air.
Machete (Danny Trejo) is an ex-federale forced into working as a Texas day-laborer following an explosive, head-chopping encounter with Torrez (Steven Seagal), a high-power Mexican druglord with connections to the American government. After beating the crap out of some nameless thug in a street fight outside his workplace, he’s approached by Booth (Jeff Fahey), a government yes-man who wants to commission the ex-agent to assassinate Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) and silence his increasingly hostile anti-immigration agenda. Yet just as Machete steps up to take his pop at the Senator, he’s shot in the shoulder by one of Booth’s men, who then proceeds to shoot McLaughlin in the leg and frame it all on the injured Mexicano. All Hell breaks loose as Machete enlists the help of Father Padr (Cheech Marin), immigration officer Sartana (Jessica Alba), taco truck driver and all-around revolutionary Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), and countless Hispanic extras in clearing his name and wreaking revenge upon those who double-crossed him.
It’s no exaggeration to say nearly every person in Machete kills someone else—and the single woman who doesn’t is naked most of her screen-time, so that kind of makes up for it. Rodriguez turns everyday action-movie fodder like rappelling from window to window into visceral fits of bloody laughter—constantly one-ups the B-movie genre. If that wasn’t enough you have Robert De Niro briefly reprising his role from Taxi Driver, Lindsay Lohan playing a toned-down version of herself, a bunch of cheeseball political ads that feel sadly realistic, and Steven Seagal’s strongest performance…ever.
This is Steven Seagal’s career-defining performance.
Rather than his typical straight-line, badass routine that nobody takes seriously, he’s out there whisking swords around and having fun with the role. That’s actually why all of Machete succeeds—rather than bask in the idiocy of some one-trick joke like Snakes on a Plane or simultaneously seek B-movie status while attempting a “sophisticated satire” of American entertainment like Piranha 3-D, this film plays up its B-movie roots, sliding from action-piece to action-piece atop a pool of blood and gunpowder. Rodriguez rarely sets out to make some deep philosophical statement about humanity—he’s a director who throws his budget at the screen in a cathartic burst of eviscerations, explosions, and gore. You won’t walk away enlightened or contemplative, but you will grin the whole way through, and that’s rare in this age of super-realistic gritty action thrillers. If you enjoyed From Dusk Till Dawn or Planet Terror, this movie’s for you.