Machete (2010): The Legend is just a legend

We’ve all been anticipating Machete since way back in 2007 when Robert Rodriguez brought us the most kick-ass faux trailer we’d ever seen through Grindhouse. With the weathered ex-con Danny Trejo as the lead, we were promised an action-packed exploitation extravaganza of revenge. However, as word spread that Machete would become a legitimate feature film, the news started getting stranger and stranger. Boasting a smorgasbord of Hollywood stars and genre actors, Machete began to look a lot less like the original exploitation saga it once resembled.  

Machete was a mixed bag for me. I did enjoy watching longtime favorite Danny Trejo slice and dice his way through a leading role. Still, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. As a fan of Rodriguez and a lover of action films, there was a lot of expectation going into this one. The gore was over-the-top and fun, despite a severe lack of practical effects. The action was absurd with off-the-wall characters.  The score by Rodriguez’ band Chingon was pitch perfect. The comedic relief was almost always hilarious. However, that’s about as much praise as I can unfortunately sing.
Setup and double-crossed.

For every glimmer of Machete’s machete that we catch, we are also treated to loads of political banter on hot button immigration issues. Many exploitation films of the yesteryear were rife with sociopolitical commentary. Machete doesn’t appear to be mimicking these films, rather it appears to preach a half thought-out message. The politics are never subtle, but they are never balls-out like you might expect from an exploitation film. Thus, we get something in between. It’s not racy enough to be exploitive, but not tame enough to simply be an undercurrent. The immigration issue is the central thrust of the plot and it just doesn’t work.

I don’t know about you, but I was expecting a revenge movie. Machete doesn’t simply go around taking out those who betrayed him from the top down, which is what I wanted. Instead, he is on the run from those who wronged him thoughout most of the film. The vengeance component isn’t really felt.
I wish he got around to using more of those cutting utensils.

Technically, the film is kind of a mess. It’s the sloppiest and most unpolished film I’ve seen from Rodriguez. And yes, I get it. It’s a grindhouse film, so a certain degree of “unpolished” is expected. However, Planet Terror managed to capture the aged film print feel without sacrificing craft. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that Rodriguez did not do the cinematography this time, and he co-edited with his daughter. The film is shot poorly and edited sloppily. Maybe the fact that Rodriguez co-directed with Ethan Maniquis also explains some things. In fact, I suspect that Rodriguez may have primarily directed the footage from the original faux trailer and left the rest for Maniquis to fill in. The co-direction is obvious, as the film is totally confused tonally and visually.
I guess Machete mania didn't sweep the entire nation.

The best parts about Machete were the moments that we had already experienced in the original faux trailer. And in some cases, the legend was better left to the imagination. Now, I guess I’m being pretty harsh about Machete and it’s probably a little unfair. I hold Rodriguez’ work up to a high standard, since Planet Terror is probably in my top 10 favorite movies of all time and From Dusk Till Dawn is definitely in the top 25. All personal paradigms aside, Machete is still a good time, but certainly won’t have any lasting impact. 


  1. Cool review, though god only knows when the UK will see a release if it ever does, but seeing how we got screwed over with Grindhouse (something that resulted in me leaving work, flying to LA, going to the nearest cinema, then getting back on a plane and pretty much heading straight back into work...that was a busy weekend) because the Weinstein's never gave it a chance, so chances are this will go straight to DVD over here.
    I agree it is kind of surreal just who has been cast here, though I suppose it's just good to see Danny Trejo finally getting a titular character, beyond noticeable henchman #1

  2. I was EXTREMELY let-down with this "embiggening" of Rodriguez' fun trailer concept, and I think you make a really valid point in mentioning that most of the movie that wasn't part of the original, 3-year old faux-preview does indeed feel like it was filler material directed by someone else. I, too, am of the opinion that Rodriguez has done mostly exceptional genre work in the past, but for me, MACHETE was a very significant disappointment.

  3. I really dug this movie, I enjoyed the themes it played with and I respect a film for doing that. I mean, like you say, its a "hot-button issue" and will likely alienate a huge chunk of its possible audience because of that, which is probably why it didnt make kajillions.

    I agree with the sloppy nature of the film, but then again Rodriguez has never been the neatest filmmaker. At times he can be pitch perfect (like in Sin City) but as his worst he can be ultra sloppy, like in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, which comes off as a rushed job, sloppy, unfocused filmmaking.

    Machet might be even sloppier since he didnt really direct the whole thing himself, he directed with the guy who edited a couple of his films, so its not full on Rodriguez in my opinion.

    Cant wait to see the next full on, Rodriguez film, with Rodriguez fully focused on making something awesome. Its something he has done in the past (Planet Terror, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn) so Im hoping he does it again sometime soon.