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(2010) (Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba) (R)

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Action/Comedy: After being set up as an assassin hired to kill a conservative Texas politician who's running for reelection on an anti-immigration platform, a former Mexican federal agent sets out to get revenge on those who've wronged him.
Machete (DANNY TREJO) was once a renowned Mexican federal agent who ran afoul of drug kingpin Torrez (STEVEN SEAGAL) and lost his family as a result. Now a day laborer in Texas, he's spotted by Booth (JEFF FAHEY) who thinks he'll make a good assassin to kill Texas State Senator McLaughlin (ROBERT DE NIRO). The latter is running for reelection on an anti-immigration platform, drawing the support of Von (DON JOHNSON) and other like-minded Americans who've formed their own militia and have taken border patrol into their own hands.

But the assassination is really a set-up designed to make McLaughlin look like an injured martyr and Machete as yet another dangerous Mexican. As various people go on the hunt for him, he gets help from Luz (MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ), who runs a taco stand but is actually the leader of an underground organization known as the Network that's designed to help assimilate illegal immigrants into the U.S.

Rumors about her being the legendary "She" have drawn the attention of Sartana (JESSICA ALBA), a field agent with the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A former immigrant herself, she's now trying to crack down on illegals who are crossing the border.

Yet, once she learns of Machete's past as a fellow law enforcement officer, she decides to bend and break her own rules to help him, as does his priest brother, Padre (CHEECH MARIN). With Booth -- when not dealing with his wild-child daughter, April (LINDSAY LOHAN) -- and others hunting him down, Machete sets out to clear his name and bring down those responsible for wronging him.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Considering how contentious the illegal immigration issue has become in the U.S., it's no surprise that films are popping up about the matter. From "Crossing Over" to "Babel," such pics have taken a serious look at those who cross America's southern border as well as the locals who help them, object to their presence and/or try to contain the flow. Now along comes "Machete," a movie that's all about just that, albeit tongue heavily planted in cheek.

Based on the faux coming attractions trailer that filmmaker Robert Rodriguez created as an intermission piece for the double feature "Grindhouse" that he helmed alongside Quentin Tarantino, the film might be the first -- and if not, it's one of the few -- where the trailer preceded the actual flick and not vice-versa as usual. For those who didn't see it, the fake and outrageous advertisement stayed in spirit and along the lines of the pictures accompanying it and was a campy send-up and Mexican variation of the "blaxploitation" movies of the 1970s that featured low-production values, over-the-top archetypes, gratuitous violence and many buxom women.

Rodriguez, who co-directs with Ethan Maniquis from a script he co-wrote with his cousin, Álvaro Rodríguez, keeps up that spirit in the extended prologue and subsequent credits sequence that begin the film with a figurative and literal bang. The edits are purposefully bad, there are scratches all over the print, and the violent camp runs rampant. While clearly not for all viewers, the first few minutes are quite entertaining for those who can stomach the material and appreciate what the filmmakers are trying to achieve.

Sadly, there are another 95-some minutes to fill and while Rodriguez and company occasionally deliver some fun, funny and highly outrageous moments, the overall film proves that it's easier to sustain all of that in a short movie trailer compared to a full-length offering. In addition, although the camp never fully goes away, the co-directors fail to maintain the faux '70s look, feel and -- most importantly -- tone throughout the entire pic.

In fact, it occasionally looks quite polished, as if the filmmakers weren't sure whether viewers would accept the old and ragged look from start to finish. While I understand it's part of the point, the film also gets quite heavy-handed in terms of its stance on the immigration issue (and making its foes look ridiculous) and what eventually becomes a fairly preachy view that somewhat mitigates the far more highly effective satire.

In his first starring role after appearing in umpteen supporting parts over the years, Danny Trejo is fun as the title character (interestingly enough, he also played Machete in Rodriguez's "Spy Kids" movies). With no issues dispatching any number of villains via an array of weapons (but most notably blades, including his namesake) or accepting the company of buxom (or in the case of Lindsay Lohan, topless) women, he perfectly plays the tough man archetype of many an exploitation flick from decades ago.

All sorts of recognizable faces -- Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal and an actor who gets the credit "And introducing Don Johnson") -- appear throughout the flick, but it's really Trejo's movie and it works best when he's up there dispensing the villains and his one-liners, while it falters in his absence.

Granted, there aren't a lot of slow moments, and Rodriguez and company throw just about everything they can muster onto the screen (among others, Trejo flying through the air on a motorcycle, machine guns blazing and a big explosion behind him, as well as the, pardon the pun, gutsy move of having Trejo escape through a window down to the floor below him using part of the human anatomy not usually associated with that).

It's a cacophony of action, violence, outrageousness and titillation that often comes off as hodgepodge at best, and haphazard and unfocused messiness in its most over-the-top moments. Some of it's fun and/or funny to behold in a "I can't believe they just did that" mindset, but a little more focus -- not to mention consistency in terms of making the entire production look like a found "lost" film from the 70s -- could have made it so much better.

Proving it's far easier to make a skit (or faux movie trailer in this case) than a full-length offering of the same, "Machete" has its moments, but it doesn't manage to be a cut above the rest of its ilk. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 31, 2010 / Posted September 3, 2010

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