Note: Some elements of this review have been taken from my theatrical review of Machete, although I have revised my opinion to better reflect how I felt about the film having seen it multiple times.
It may be hard to believe that Robert Rodriguez and his cohorts at Troublemaker Studios managed to turn a two-minute gag trailer that's all money shots into a movie that a) makes sense, b) is about something and c) sell it to a major studio, but like the titular hero, despite all odds to the contrary, Machete delivers in spades. A delirious double-shot of R-rated mayhem, Machete combines witty filmmaking, a love of cult films and Z-grade schlock of the '70s, and even a touch of wry social commentary to create a thoroughly entertaining B-action picture that goes down even smoother on home video than it did in theaters.
Just as in that original spot (which you might've seen before Planet Terror, but probably saw on YouTube), familiar character actor Danny Trejo plays Machete, a former Federale turned unemployed drifter who gets roped into a double-cross scheme involving a United State senator. In the full-length feature, we learn that Machete was actually double-crossed twice: by his Federale captain first, and by the senator's aide second. Both double-crosses trace back to Torrez (Steven Seagal), a drug lord with a questionable Mexican accent who kills Machete's family and leaves him for dead. It doesn't take long for Machete to realize the same man who destroyed his life is trying to do it again, and, like the trailer says, everyone learns the hard way "they just fucked with the wrong Mexican."
As the hero, Trejo underplays the comic book madness with stone-faced antihero gravitas, growling five-word sentences when he actually bothers to speak and letting his attitude say the rest. It's a wise choice that makes Trejo the straight man to the movie's exaggerated antics. Trejo is aided by a supporting cast that includes Jeff Fahey and Cheech Marin, both effectively reprising their roles from the original trailer, plus a laundry list of keyed-in newcomers including Michelle Rodriguez as Luz, owner and operator of a taco truck; Jessica Alba as an immigration officer named Sartana; Don Johnson playing a slimy border patrolsman; and best of all, Robert De Niro as the senator, McLaughlin. I've read plenty of rants about De Niro's performance, but while he's not great in the film, he is game for the tone Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis are after, which is wildly refreshing after years of half-assed Righteous Kills and Meet the Parents sequels. Spewing a terrible, fake Texan accent when he's talking to his constituents and delivering Rodriguez's puns with panache, the guy is called upon to do some mighty silly stuff in Machete, and the more uncomfortable he looks, the funnier it becomes. As for Seagal, his participation is minimal, but he may be the weirdest element of the whole film. Pudgy, seemingly distracted, and sporting a worse accent than De Niro, it's like he's dropping in from another planet. My only serious disappointment (once I decided his oddball performance was intentional) is that his showdown with Machete doesn't call for as much of his hand-to-hand combat skills as I hoped (i.e., any).
Rodriguez released a teaser for the film on Cinco de Mayo that mostly consisted of the original Grindhouse footage, aside from a short message from Trejo about the tumultuous state of immigration laws in Arizona. Surprisingly, the film actually tackles the topic head-on, delivered with a savvy balance between funny and preachy. One moment, when a security guard starts arguing against his three friends about their treatment of Hispanic and Latino people, comes close to harping on the nerves, but it's defused a minute or two later with a great joke. The way the movie brings this plot thread full circle is also outrageous, inspired silliness. I could summarize what happens, but it's a sight that should be seen to be believed; the scale and scope of what Rodriguez, Maniquis and co-writer Álvaro Rodríguez (Robert's cousin) stage for the movie's finale is one of the most enjoyably tongue-in-cheek spectacles I've seen all year.
I could go on and on about Machete's little details: the returning characters from Grindhouse, sly references to Escape From New York and one of De Niro's most famous films, Lindsay Lohan's fake nudity (it's all shadows and trick editing, folks), the beheadings, Machete's opinion on text messaging (do I smell an in-theater PSA?), Tom Savini. Suffice it to say, Machete does a better job of delivering on its potential than anyone could've reasonably expected, with that extra bit of Rodriguez style that not even other popcorn pictures like The A-Team or Red can lay claim to. The voice-over from the original trailer leaps to mind: "He knows the score! He gets the women!" Finally, truth in advertising.
The DVD, Video, and Audio
Fox sent over a screener DVD-R that shifts dramatically from looking good to being horribly pixelated, so I can't accurately assess the A/V quality or packaging for this release. However, I can confirm that final product will be presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish and French Stereo (no 5.1 Spanish?), with English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles.
As someone who enjoys the enthusiasm of a packed theater, an audience reaction track is a fun, if completely non-essential addition to a repeat viewing of the film. As with any of these things, it gets quiet at times, and the audience could be higher in the mix, given that's the point, but if you liked the tracks on Planet Terror and Sin City, here's another one. The only other extra is a reel of five deleted scenes (total runtime 6:31). Three are pretty unimportant, but two contain a key bit of "information" about Alba's character that will no doubt come up in any sequels that might surface.
It's worth noting that Rodriguez repeatedly stated in interviews that several characters were meant to die, and said death scenes were even shot (you can see Tom Savini meeting what must be his end in the trailer), but that many were removed in case he and Maniquis decided to bring those characters back in future chapters. Since none of the deleted scenes on this DVD are death scenes, and the disc seems a bit lacking in extras (like a commentary, or Rodriguez's staple "10 Minute" Cooking/Film School featurettes), don't be surprised if Machete gets a double dip -- perhaps with an Unrated cut? -- somewhere down the line.
A ridiculous promo for Digital Copies and ads for Unstoppable, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand", and Fox/MGM Blu-Ray horror films play before the movie. Two original theatrical trailers for Machete are also included (in green and red-band varieties), and an additional gallery of "Sneak Peek" promos for The A-Team, Street Kings 2, Fox 75th Anniversary, and Twelve close things out.
Anyone who enjoyed Rodriguez's previous films, Grindhouse, or both should have a blast with Machete, a thoroughly funny B-movie diversion. Given the paltry bonus features alloted to the DVD (it doesn't look like the Blu-Ray has more), there may be a double-dip down the pipeline, but the entertainment value warrants a high recommendation.
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