Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Machete (2010) – Review

Machete is violent, absurdly silly and has a satirical political agenda. Like many of the films this summer (The Expendables, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Piranha 3-D), the film is made with a very specific audience in mind – catering every stylistic and tonal aspect for that audience, and thus this film will not appeal to everyone. But for those it is intended for – aka fans of writer-director Robert Rodriguez’s non-kid-movie work – this film is hilarious, full of action and has some interesting comments on the current social and cultural issues involving immigrants from Mexico and the Border States (primarily Texas and Arizona). The world Rodriguez creates is similar to Blacksploitation films like Shaft and Super Fly: whites are corrupt and villainous, our hero is an assassin-type, there are drug dealers, the film deals mostly in murder and violence (though with a message, but we will get to that) with comedic overtones, the music plays a role in setting the mood for the scenes from high-paced thrash rock to porno funk, all female characters are hot, naked or dressed in a sexy manner, to name a few. The film also has a very 70’s feel to it. Set against the ridiculousness of the film – the graphic nature of the violence and sex used mostly for comedic effect – is an overt satire regarding the immigration issues between Mexico and America. Whether or not the film is a pointed message at Arizona lawmakers specifically, due to the states impending and hotly debated law regarding illegal immigrants and how all law-enforcement officers can ask them for their papers, or taking issue with all anti-Mexican immigrants groups or both, the film does a good job at getting its message across, be it in a simplistic and emotionally skewed way (as is the case with any issue that is given visuals, music and a narrative). The film succeeds in making a case of immigrants as contributing members to Border State economies and that they have just as much right to The American Way as citizens. However, the film is intended for fans of Rodriguez, most probably already share his opinion on the subject, so really it is a satire for like-minded fans, not a film to change anyone’s mind on the topic. And while the film does succeed in being funny with good action sequences, living up to its influences, it suffers a bit in not being an overly tight narrative. The structure of the film is not polished enough and the pacing leaves the film feeling long and the narrative too disjointed at times, especially near the end, with scenes not flowing as well as they should. Overall, Machete sets out to do everything the fans want, and does them well.

On the technical side: co-directors Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis set out to make a very stylish film with 70’s action films, especially Blacksplotation, as the primary influence, and the film looks, feels and plays just like a film from that area (but with CGI effects). Rodriguez has a core group of fans and he makes his films for them, and this is no different. Cinematographer Jimmy Lindsey and production designer Christopher Stull did great work on the film completely synchronizing their efforts with the intended style and tone from the directors, as the film is just what it wants to be from a visual standpoint. Composer John Debney worked with Rodriguez scoring the film, recording rock and funky tunes as a band, dictating the intended feeling of each scene or beat to the audience and setting the tone for the film. Acting wise, the cast is a bit up and down. Danny Trejo is Machete – he plays the role perfectly, some subtle emotion but mostly just a badass not to be messed with. The film would not be the same without him. Robert De Niro seemed a bit out of the place, but all-in-all works. Steven Seagal is hilarious and works mostly because he is Steven Seagal. Michelle Rodriguez and Jessical Alba are good in their roles, though even as strong women they are sort of marginalized a bit. Jeff Fahey is fine, but not amazing. Don Johnson is not too good in this – maybe he was cast for name value like Seagal, but unlike Seagal he has no presence on-screen. Cheech Marin is funny and provides a comedic spark. And finally, Lindsay Lohan makes fun of herself and turns out to be a nice addition to the film.

Machete is everything you think it is and a little bit more. 7/10

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