A lot of hype has gone into Machete for one surreal element: This is based upon a fake trailer for a double-feature designed to evoke traditional grindhouse flicks. It doesn't get more meta than that, and thankfully for co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, it is a largely successful film that only seems to falter in actually recreating the grindhouse feel 100 percent.
Oddly, Machete isn't exactly the easiest film to follow, which is surprising considering its supposed low brow leanings. Danny Trejo stars as the namesake Machete, a Mexican Federale, who after a nasty betrayal from his compadres, ends up three years later in Texas as a day laborer in a rather grand tale involving Jessica Alba as Sartana, a latina ICE agent bent on upholding the law, and Michelle Rodriguez as Luz, the underground leader of the “Network”, a militant organization designed to help immigrants in America. Opposing these heroes is Robert DeNiro as the skeezy politician bent on kicking immigrants out of Texas, Steven Segal as a dastardly Mexican drug lord, Jeff Fahey as the backstabbing Booth, and to quote the film, “introducing” Don Johnson as the militant vigilante Lt. Stillman. It's an all star cast for a film designed to be anything but, and the addition of Lindsay Lohan as the drugged out daughter of Booth, and Cheech Marin as the brother of Machete only solidify the cast. Between them and the insanely over the top plot, in which, yes, many people will be killed by a machete, and yes, there are lots of bare breasts (mostly from Lohan, apparently not branching out for this role), Machete establishes itself as a very entertaining, if mature film.
What is by far the most surprising element of Machete is the core issue of immigration politics. Considering Rodriguz is himself a Mexican, you can see what side they make their argument, however, instead of demonizing the masses, they choose to focus on the people who exploit and a criminalize immigrants. Slimy politicians, morally corrupt border guard vigilantes, and exploitative nature of politicians and money grubbing bad guys define the villainy of the film. For the left-leaning, it's a refreshing take on this issue, and is a surprisingly mature element of the film. The not-so left-leaning might find the politics to be forced, but, eh, this ain't the movie for tea partiers and the right, considering the boobs and all.
However, more than a rock solid cast and politics, the film is a mostly entertaining action flick in which Trejo does his thing as an amazing ugly, if dangerous, Machete who does his best to right the wrongs and make the bad guys pay. The core of the film, that is, this man's goal to restore his dignity after a nasty framing, isn't exactly new, but it's done from the perspective of a man who isn't a white guy. And seriously, I'll say it: Part of what makes this, and many of Rodriguez' films, so refreshing is how the man lives and breathes his culture and identity without backing down to the norms of the studios around him. Big props on that.
It's not all perfect. One of the biggest problems with Machete is how the film half-asses the whole grindhouse aesthetic. While the first 20 minutes of the film is gloriously over the top, with scratched film, obvious special effects, mass amounts of gore and sexuality (a woman pulls a cell phone hidden in her lady bits, in an over the top break from the splatter), however the rest of the film is often devoid of these tricks until the end. Yes, those elements are present through the constant sexuality and violence, like the bloody battle at the end between the Mexican "Network" and a bunch of militant border patrol vigilantes (resplendent with cholas, dishwashers, killer lowriders, and other latino stereotypes, as well as good ol' boy patriots). However, these moments take place between what amounts to a tongue-in-cheek action flick. Whereas much of the film recreates the cheese of the 1970s, the other half becomes exactly what it's trying to parody. I can't tell if this is a grindhouse flick or not, as the ambiguity undermines this facet.
So yeah, Machete isn't exactly a perfect film. But it knows what it needs to do to entertain, by offering up a schlocky and unrealistic action movie in the vein of 70's grind. While this in itself goes pretty far, it's the smartly addressed message and a fantastic cast ready to do anything for the fun of the film that really makes it succeed. Sure, it could have been better, but with a film like this, what we have is just fine.