Machete
Fox // R // $39.99 // January 4, 2011
Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 8, 2011
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
So,
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yeah: Grindhouse opened with a trailer for Machete that, in the space of something like two minutes and fifteen seconds, delivered:
  • Danny Trejo lopping off a guy's hand that sloughs off still clutching a pistol.
  • Trejo opening up a trenchcoat to reveal something like fifty different machetes and assorted blades.
  • Oversized machetes being chucked into a small army of badniks.
  • A double-crossing dude's head being split clean across the middle with a power saw.
  • A heavily tattoed Mexican in his sixties having a threeway with a couple of busty, topless gringettes in a pool.
  • Cheech Marin as a priest who cocks two shotguns at once, then blasts a guy's head off while grunting "God has mercy...I don't".
  • Trejo slapping a Gatling gun onto a motorcycle, soaring mid-air through an explosion, and blasting the holy hell out of a bunch of bad guys.
I mean, as much of a nerdgasm as Grindhouse was, that Machete trailer was easily the best thing about it. The only thing is...y'know, where do you go from there? Real exploitation flicks always crammed all the best stuff into their trailers, so there's no way an actual feature-length version of Machete could ever live up to that, right? Believe it or not...? Robert Rodriguez was just getting started.

Yeah, there's a plot, and Machete doesn't just shrug it off the way a lot of exploitation flicks do. There's more to it than just "nasty drug dealers" or "they killed my family...now I'm gonna kill them!", although there's plenty of that too. I don't really wanna get too hung up on all that, though. Let's just say that a skeevy business tycoon named Booth (Jeff Fahey) hires a Mexican day laborer (Danny Trejo) to gun down a smarmy, good-ol'-boy politican. Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) has taken a hard stance against
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illegal immigration, but we're talking about the backbone of Texas' economy. Blowing a hole through McLaughlin's skull is kind of a win-win situation: white folks keep their cheap labor; the illegals get to toil away on this side of the border. Okay, that's not really a win-win at all, but just roll with it. Anyway, it's a setup, and another gunman hits the Mexican before he can ever get a shot off. Oh, but this isn't just any day laborer. Look at the title! Turns out that this is Machete, a disgraced federale whose wife was murdered before his eyes by a Mexican druglord (Steven Seagal) and was left for dead. You don't fuck with a guy named Machete, especially when he's bearing down over you with a, um, actual machete.

To get this out of the way, just about everything that's in the trailer from Grindhouse really is in Machete. Sure, some of the actors have been swapped around, and certain things have been tweaked a bit. F'r instance, Machete's crosshairs aren't aimed at some '60s Kennedy-esque motorcade but at a sleazy politician holding a political rally where he rants about parasitic illegal immigrants infesting the proud state of Texas. Still, that Grindhouse clip that seemed like a really clever, demented Mexploitation spoof really could be a trailer for the feature-length spin on Machete. The tone, the dialogue, the splatter, the shameless nudity, a big chunk of the cast...all of that's intact, and Machete's barely started revving up its engine.

There's nothing about Machete that isn't batshit insane. We're talking about a flick whose cast includes Danny Trejo, Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Jeff Fahey, Tom Savini, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, and Lindsay Lohan. This is exploitation cinema at its stickiest and most cacklingly depraved. Just about every actress in the flick is naked at some point. Jessica Alba exposes every square inch of skin she can without a nipple creeping into the frame, and Lindsay Lohan tries to hide her
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boobs behind her hair but lets a lot more show than she'd want if she were ever sober enough to notice. Lotsa sex, lotsa tits, lotsa ass, and lots and lots of blood. How Machete slunk away with an R-rating, I have no idea, but...Jee-zus. That's the good kind of "Jee-zus" too! Every gunshot sends a geyser of the red stuff splattering around. There's plenty of dismemberment and skewering. Machete will whirl around and lop off four heads at once. He jabs a bonesaw into one dude, rips out a few dozen feet of his intestines, and then crashes out a window with it, John McClane-style. He whacks off a dude's hand, grabs it and the pistol it's still holding, and then guns another badnik down. Machete beats the fuck out of a guy in a street fight, holding a burrito in one hand and without so much as throwing a punch. Corkscrew-fu! Weed whacker-fu! Nail gun-fu! Death by stiletto heel! Aerial human BBQ! An assassin in a luchador mask! Crucifixion! One dude is crushed by a lowrider rockin' its hydraulics! A Thriller-style gunslinger chick in an eyepatch! It's like Joe Bob Briggs having a fever dream.

Machete is just balls-out, sticky, exploitative fun...what grindhouse flicks from the '70s and '80s desperately wanted to be but hardly ever nailed. There's not
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really any filler. There's something demented in pretty much every scene. If no one's being decapitated or dismembered, there's at least some nudity or an incest joke. Machete's buoyed by a really playful sense of humor too. It's there in the violence, which is deliberately ridiculous and over-the-top rather than gruelingly Hostel-esque. The same goes for the pot-puffing, porn wah-chika-wah music, every damn thing with Cheech Marin, and even the politics of the whole thing. There's a kinda ham-fisted political angle about immigration rights, but it's deliberately clumsy and kind of tongue-in-cheek, playing a lot like the way the race card was played in blaxploitation or Cold War-era sneering in every '80s action flick ever. I'm sure the politics are sincere, but the delivery isn't stone-faced preaching or anything insufferable like that. What I love is that as heavy-handed as the message is, Rodriguez also slinks in fairly sly winks with the white folks throwing 'enchilada' and 'piñata' into everyday conversation just to show how much Hispanic culture has bled into the American language. But...yeah. Moving on, everyone on the bill is clearly having a blast, and I love finally seeing Danny Trejo in a leading role too.

I didn't waltz into the theater expecting Machete to live up to the Grindhouse trailer, but Robert Rodriguez somehow managed to deliver something better than I ever could've hoped to see. Even my second time through now, I really can't muster any gripes at all. The closest thing I can come to a complaint is that the movie feels a little long with a second pass. There aren't any scenes that drag that I'd want to yank out, but I guess I'm just so used to exploitation flicks running 85-90 minutes that one clocking in at 105 minutes -- even one as brilliant as Machete! -- feels like a bit of a slog. Good God, I love Machete so much that I feel guilty saying even that.

Why did I write all that again? Blood, boobs, blades, and bullets: that's all the review you really need. Machete is some of the most fun I've had watching in a movie in forever, and it's the most hysterically over-the-top genre homage this side of Black Dynamite. Highly Recommended.


Video
Machete kicks off with a dialed-down version of the grimy, grungy, grainy aesthetic from that trailer that was tacked onto Grindhouse a couple years back. Throughout that opening sequence, the image is swarming with fake film grain and peppered with specks and assorted wear, shadow detail winds up being slightly fuzzy, and the palette sticks to a sunbaked gold. Since Machete was shot with gleaming new digital cameras, it ought to go without saying that all that's completely intentional. If that sort of look isn't your thing so much, don't fret: it eases up after a few minutes. Once the meat of the movie is underway, Machete looks pretty great. Bolstered by deep, inky blacks, clarity and detail are both robust. They don't consistently impress, but I think that's intentional...to keep Machete from coming across as too glossy. The cinematography captures the steamy heat of the Texan sun, and although the colors are heavy on muddy yellows and browns, that does leave Machete feeling a little more like an authentically vintage exploitation flick. The palette still pops when it should, such as during McLaughlin's political rallies and TV spots. The only downside is that the image sometimes does get a little noisy under low light, and the thin sheen of fake film grain that's been added in sometimes looks excessively digital. Those are pretty minor, though, and Machete overall looks terrific on Blu-ray.

Machete's AVC-encode spans both layers of this BD-50 disc, and the image has been slightly letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.


Audio
Machete's lossless soundtrack
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is every bit as unhinged and unrelenting as the movie itself, taking full advantage of every channel at its stubby, calloused fingertips. Sprays of gunfire attack from all sides. Bullets whiz by from speaker to speaker, and the action frequently finds some excuse to have smooth, seamless pans across the soundscape. I mean, Machete skewers a fake cop in a police cruiser, sending the car veering wildly out of control in kinda/sorta heavy traffic, and the sound design shoves you square in the middle of it. With some kind of eighty megaton explosion every ten minutes along with stuff like a sedan plowing clean through a wall, the subwoofer is constantly snarling. Even in lower key sequences, there's still a lot of atmospheric color splashed around in the surrounds. Every last element in the mix is rendered clearly and distinctly, and dialogue never struggles in the mix even when Machete is at its most psychotic. The score sounds phenomenal too, especially the flickers of brass and flamenco guitars in the rears and the thick, substantial bass. I'm really impressed by how expansive the dynamic range is too. No gripes or "...except"s this time around: Machete sounds pretty much perfect on Blu-ray.

I didn't rattle off the technical specs, but they're exactly what you'd expect for a studio flick fresh out of theaters: six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio. Also included is an audience reaction track. It's DVD quality -- Dolby Digital 5.1 (448kbps) -- but don't let that throw you off. The fidelity of the recording is pretty spectacular, and applause, cheers, laughter, and all that swarm from every direction. There are Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French and Spanish as well, and subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish.


Extras
Um, not much. No commentary. No behind-the-scenes stuff. No interviews. No 'Ten Minute Film School'. No 'Ten Minute Cooking School'. Everything I expect out of a shiny, new Robert Rodriguez Blu-ray disc is M.I.A. I guess that means there's a re-release lurking in the shadows.
  • Audience Reaction Track: Yeah, I covered this a little ways up.

  • Deleted Scenes (11 min.; HD): There are two subplots that were hacked out
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    of Machete, and...yikes, the flick's a lot better for it too. One is the reveal that Sartana has a slutty, boozy twin sister, and she pops up in several of these scenes. Booth also hires a league of elite assassins, complete with fancy font introductions. Two of them are in the final cut of Machete, but the third -- a kitty-stroking ass-kicker named Boots McCoy, played by Rodriguez fave Rose McGowan -- only appears here. Boots sets out to take down pretty much every woman on the marquee, and she winds up getting ensnared in the whole twin sister subplot too. The one scene in all this that matters was reshot for the final cut, and that was the right move to make. Even with as big and relentlessly over-the-top as Machete is, a lot of this deleted footage feels kinda cartoony...out of step with the tone of the rest of the flick.

    Other stuff! McLaughlin turns up on TV defending his hardline stance on illegal immigration. Booth and McLaughlin also have a post-gunplay pow wow in a limo. I'm guessing both of these were from an early cut of the flick, and Rodriguez opted to shoot new scenes and shuffle all this exposition around. It's really just more of the same. The only of these deleted scenes that I actually like is seeing the last of Booth's hitmen getting knocked off. One of the only shots from the Machete trailer in Grindhouse that's not in the theatrical cut turns up there.

  • Trailers (4 min.; HD): Two of 'em! The first is a red band trailer with a very brief introduction by Robert Rodriguez, and the other's the...um, not-red band trailer. It's unbanded. There's no band to be had.

  • BD Live: Because Fox hates you, one deleted scene -- "McLaughlin in Hospital" -- is available exclusively online and in lower quality than the extra snippets elsewhere on this disc. It's only 42 seconds long and is just exposition that's already covered elsewhere in the flick, so at least it's not a major loss if your BD player can't hop online.

The second disc in the set is a digital copy for use on iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices.


The Final Word
Okay, for some of you, maybe 2010 was the year we made contact. Me, though...? Between Piranha 3D and Machete, it was the year of the trashy exploitation renaissance...nothing but tits, ass, and dementedly over-the-top splatter. The original Machete trailer was the best thing about Grindhouse, and impossibly, the finished flick manages to be even more batshit insane. Machete was the biggest blast I had in a darkened movie theater last year (or maybe #2, but who's counting?), and it holds up every bit as well the second time around on Blu-ray. The only downside is the near-total lack of extras, and I wouldn't be surprised if there's a loaded director's cut somewhere off on the horizon. A double dip looks pretty inevitable, yeah, but I don't care. I need to watch a sixty-something-year-old former federale skewer a guy with a bonesaw and then bungee-cord out a window with his intestines, so why twiddle my thumbs and wait? ¡Viva Machete! Highly Recommended.


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