4 stars

Machete - Movie Review

Three years have passed since first teasing Grindhouse audiences with the trailer for Machete – a film that didn’t quite exist, but was appreciated for the sheer amount of violence and T & A promises it held.  The Grindhouse faithful were assured that the film was coming.  Be patient.  A year passed.  Then, another.  Rumors persisted that it would be a straight-to-DVD release.  Fans didn’t care; they just wanted to see Machete kill people in glorious Grindhouse fun.  More time passed.  Still, we waited.  Finally, in the burgeoning fall of 2010, the day of Robert Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis’s reckoning is finally upon us.  The result?  Machete is exactly what it you expect it to be.  It’s badass – and almost as good as Planet Terror - almost.  While it does have stretches where the energy drags and the acting appears not as jokey, Machete is the old school B movie the “trailer” always promised.

Danny Trejo – in his first lead in a feature film - is Machete.  He is a one man army.  Fighting to save his neck after being double-crossed by Michael Benz (Jeff Fahey) as a hired assassin to kill Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), a sniveling politician hell-bent on keeping illegal immigrants out of the United States, Machete must join forces with Immigrations Officer Sartana (Jessica Alba) and the local Hispanic Underground (led by Michelle Rodiguez).  Ultimately, Machete’s redemptive journey will take him to his Holy “brother” (Cheech Marin), where he crosses paths with Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, and, finally, his final target: Steven Seagal.  Completely over-the-top and deliciously extreme in momentary fits of violence, Machete burns a trailblazing path through Texas – not unlike Sherman’s March to the Sea - and remains consistently topic as it covers the extreme sides of the illegal immigration debate.

Rest assured, Machete is a violent parade of everything Rodriguez.  In fact, some sequences are downright copycats of what he’s done before (most notably, the little seen Once Upon A Time in Mexico).  The grisly action sequences are completely over-the-top and showcase Rodriguez’s skills at film editing.  Exciting and quick, the sequences don’t stay long, but their effect is lasting.  In one quick sequence, Machete makes his escape by crashing through a hospital window only to swing to safety below.  His lengthy “rope”?  Another man’s intestines.  Ridiculous?  Completely.  Fun and exciting?  Hell, yes.  Still, for fans of Rodriguez, Machete might disappoint because it does borrow a bit too much from his previous films.

There’s a lot to gloriously embrace about Machete – especially if you love gorilla filmmaking.  That fact that this film exists at all is reason enough to celebrate.  Machete is, after all, one film fanatic’s love letter to the genre.  Much like the Grindhouse features before it, Planet Terror and Death Proof, Rodriguez’s Machete solely exists to entertain those who understand the thrills of the exploitative genre.  It’s filled with actors knowing what type of film they are in and they sell it well; it’s funny as a send-off to some of the trademarked “charms” of a B movie, and it tackles a heavy issue, perverting both sides.

Yet, Machete suffers because it doesn’t exploit the ripe territory of sleazy filmmaking enough.  There’s enough violence, but not enough sex and nudity, and not enough bite in its overall chomp; the performances, while good, don’t really seem to always land their needed delivery - specifically Alba and De Niro.  Alba is fine to look at, but plays her character way too straight to make her “believable” when it comes time to unite her Hispanic brothers and sisters.  I suppose that’s part of the gimmick to a B movie, but I’ve seen it done more effectively in Switchblade Sisters.  While De Niro does get to have some fun with “becoming” Hispanic, he doesn’t let loose like you’d expect him to do in a film of this caliber.  He’s a bit too reserved and that’s a bit disappointing.

The film is also uneven in pacing and in its “look”.  While it may seem ridiculous to criticize a movie for appearing too polished, keep in mind that this is a Grindhouse movie.  There are expectations Rodriguez firmly established with the unpolished and celluloid “burn” of Planet Terror.  To his credit, Rodriguez fully captures that with the beginning of the film.  Machete starts with that visual bang; the film is scratched; it’s roughly edited; it pops; speeds-up; it’s choppy and well-used; it even has a “roughed up” title sequence, and then… as if wisped away by a magician’s wand, the “fun” visual aspect of the Grindhouse Era feel of the film is suddenly gone.  After the opening credits, the film looks markedly better and – much to my disappointment - it never returns to the “look” and “feel” of a scrappily-handled film.  I’m not suggesting that Machete suddenly becomes a Hollywood-looking bonanza of special effects (because it doesn’t), but the visual punch of the exploitation film is sorely missed throughout the rest of the movie and slightly diminishes the fun of the Grindhouse experience.

Machete follows the B movie trappings and lands every single one of those notes, but something in the love of making an authentic Grindhouse picture gets lost along the side of a Texas road.  Where’s the scratched film?  Where’s the splotched-together pieces?  Gone.  The oversaturation is there, yes, but the feel of complete seediness is gone and really, really missed.  Instead of a point-and-shoot styled cheaply made flick, you have a Charles Bronson –like action movie with some over-the-top moments.  Don’t get me wrong, Machete is a satisfying ride through Austin, just not the glorious scratch-and-match film you really, really want it to be.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Details}

Component Grades
Blu-ray Disc
4 stars
2 stars
Blu-ray Experience
3 Stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - January 4, 2011
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English SDH, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); Digital copy (on disc); BD-Live

The artificial film scratches and rough edits might disappear after the film’s opening, but Machete remains a kick ass blu-ray.  Heavy on reds, browns, and oranges - with the saturation keyed up – the disc is rich in black levels and contrast. Facial detail is good – especially on Trejo’s face – and the gore is fire-engine red throughout the film's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer.  There is some banding in the details, but it’s hard to tell if this is intended (although I don’t think so) given its HD resolution. The sound – courtesy of a bass-heavy DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix – will kick at the subwoofers, but provides little from the rear speakers making it a bit of a letdown in creating an immersive sonic field.



  • Unfortunately, there is none from either Rodriguez or co-director Ethan Maniquis which is surprising considering the fan appeal of this movie.

Special Features:

I suspect Rodriguez is holding out on us. This is surprisingly void of supplemental material. While what you get is okay because the deleted scenes give you a glimpse at some fun side-storylines, I think we should expect an unrated version to be released sometime in the near future (maybe when the sequel is released). This doesn’t even have his usual Cooking School feature. Not cool.

The special features are as follows:

  • Deleted Scenes (11 min)
  • Red Band Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • BD-Live Exclusive Deleted Scene


{2jtab: Trailer}