Grindhouse is a term used to describe a movie theater that specialized in showing Exploitation movies, primarily in the 1970s. That type of movie was often made on the cheap, and contained salicious subject matter like nudity, drugs, or taboo behavior.
In 2007, Director Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino brought us the Grindhouse double-feature, which consisted of Planet Terror and Death Proof. The film itself was scratched up to replicate what a real grindhouse might have looked like. The movie(s) were heavy on the gore, nudity, and camp, just like the old days.
The movie featured fake trailers for upcoming films, one of which was for a movie called Machete, featuring grizzled character actor Danny Trejo. Rodriquez decided to flesh out the ideas behind the trailer and dusted off a script he wrote in 1993 to give the film the full feature treatment.
Machete (pronounced throughout the film as Ma-chet-ay) is the moniker given to an ex federale from Mexico who witnessed horrible atrocities committed on his family and has become a vigilante of sorts, vowing to bring down the people responsible for killing his family. No surprise that his weapon of choice is a newly sharpened machete, though he will use just about any implement in a pinch.
Three years after the grisly opening sequence, Machete is living quietly in Texas, and getting work out of a day labor facility. He befriends a kind woman (Michelle Rodriquez) the workers call “She” who runs a taco truck and may be participating in a network that helps illegals cross the border and then find work.
She peddles her tacos under the watchful eye of Sartana, a smoking hot ICE agent who has a penchant for wearing skin tight pants and stiletto heels, and drives her BMW into the poverty stricken areas of town without a trace of irony.
Machete is recruited by a slick political type to assassinate a dirty Senator, played by Robert DeNiro. His diabolical Senator McLaughlin participates in night time hunts for illegals who are literally shot if they are unlucky enough to be found. McLaughlin makes sure that the killings are captured on film, grinning that “my supporters will love this.”
His tv spot features a gently flapping American flag, inter-cut with pictures of maggots and cockroaches, as he likes to refer to illegals. It’s a shocking display of bigotry, but the man has his supporters.
Machete finds out that he was set up for the assassination, and naturally, since he is Mexican, he is the suspect. So it’s up to Machete to find the real people responsible for the assassination plot. Along the way he beds a lot of babes, and kills a lot of people, always in spectacular fashion.
I knew that Machete would be completely over the top and ridiculous in all the right ways, but I wasn’t expecting such a biting social satire. Rodriquez makes a very clear political point about immigration through humor and violence.
With the exception of drug king-pin Torrez (played by a dough-faced Steven Seagal), almost everyone of Mexican descent is practically saintly. They are gardners, housekeepers, and nannies, the gentle folk who keep the inner workings of a household moving efficiently.
It’s the gringos here who are heartless, quick to pull the trigger finger on a pregnant woman and treat the Mexicans as second class citizens.
The film culminates in fight to the death against a bunch of immigrant hating thugs and a rag-tag team of companions that Machete has haphazardly assembled.
Machete is fun, bloody and badass. Directors Robert Rodriquez and Ethan Maniquis wisely keep the film to a manageable running time, so it zips along and doesn’t seem to wear out its welcome. The title sequence is pure 70’s style, and sets you up for the tone of the movie.
One complaint, though. I could have done without Lindsay Lohan. Her topless scenes are icky and unnecessary, and her character seemed tacked on in the last sequence. She just seemed hopelessly out of place.
Trejo is perfect, Michelle Rodriquez is a blast playing her alter ego “She” (an obvious allusion to Che.) Jessica Alba is still as fit as ever, and gets to pull off some impressive fighting moves.
Jeff Fahey sleazes it up appropriately as the Senator’s aide. De Niro just appears to be having a blast, hamming it up. There are brief, but fun appearances by Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, and Tom Savini, who actually does fingertip push ups in an infomercial. That’s worth the price of admission, right there.