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Machete: the B-Movie as Bloated Illegal Immigration Agitprop

Machete features more political speeches than the Democratic National Convention, and a tone that resembles an Air America broadcast.

by
Christian Toto

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September 7, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Writer/director Robert Rodriguez squeezes in every ugly stereotype he can regarding illegal immigration opponents in his new Mexploitation romp Machete.

And there’s plenty of room left over for splattered body parts, crooked politicians, and extreme stunt casting. You don’t make Lindsay Lohan show up in a nun’s habit if you’re not gunning for some cheap thrills.

Conservatives shouldn’t be surprised that Machete takes a strong pro-illegal immigration stance. Rodriguez assembled a trailer for the film a few months back trashing Arizona for daring to enforce its borders.

That was just the beginning. Machete features more political speeches than the Democratic National Convention, and the content overlap is considerable.

But the bigger sin for audiences is that Machete isn’t much fun. There’s nothing quite as joyous as a good, old-fashioned B-movie, something the recent film Piranha 3D reminded us in spades. Machete, by comparison, strains to be funny but rarely makes us smile, and its action sequences border on the monotonous.

How many times can you watch someone get disemboweled by a sharp instrument?

Veteran actor Danny Trejo is Machete, a character created for one of the faux trailers attached to the Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino 2007 film Grindhouse. The film opens with a Mexican crime lord named Torrez (Steven Seagal, hamming it up nicely) killing Machete’s wife and leaving him for dead.

Flash forward three years, and Machete is just another day laborer looking for gigs near the border between Texas and Mexico. He’s summoned by a political wrangler (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate Sen. McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), an incumbent whose anti-immigration rhetoric compares Mexicans to leeches — and worse.

But it’s all a setup, a faux hit meant to boost the senator’s electoral hopes. Now, Machete wants revenge, and the brooding vigilante isn’t shy about getting the job done.

Along the way Machete runs into a soft-hearted immigration official (Jessica Alba), an immigrants’ rights leader (Michelle Rodriguez) nicknamed “Shé” as in Ché, and a whole lot of thugs to impale.

Trejo’s deeply lined face and hulking presence seem the perfect match for a character like Machete, but the actor’s dry line readings rob some of the fun from the performance.

It doesn’t help that he rarely has anything interesting to say. His comic highlight comes down to three words, “Machete don’t text,” and it’s all downhill from there.

Subplots all but drown out the main story, from an “underground railroad” style immigration system dubbed the “network” helping illegals make it in America to a vile Minuteman-type vigilante (Don Johnson) who delights in shooting pregnant Mexicans to avoid the whole “anchor baby” mess.

“They call us vigilantes, but it’s really vigilance,” the character snarls after putting a poor woman down.

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