Pros: excellent cast; Danny Trejo kicks butt; awesome action; unique kills; gore effects; Jessica Alba naked
With Machete, Danny Trejo has proven he's got what it takes to carry a film - a large knife. In all seriousness, Trejo actually does an excellent job of playing the leading man. Despite having relatively scant dialogue and only a few real opportunities to convey emotion, as he's quite busy slicing and dicing his way to revenge, he effectively portrays a broken man doing what he can to make the world a better place.
As the film begins, Machete is a Mexican Federale on a one-man crusade to stop a druglord by the name of Torrez, played with gusto by Steven Seagal in his first true role as a villain. Machete's colleagues have been paid by Torrez to look the other way, but Machete answers only to his conscience. After a failed attempt to raid Torrez's safehouses, the druglord decides to punish Machete for his insolence, by killing his wife and child.
Jump to three years later, Machete is working as a day laborer in Texas as an illegal immigrant; one of dozens being tagged by undercover special customs agent Sartana (Jessica Alba). Of particular interest to Sartana is Luz, a young Mexican woman played by the talented Michelle Rodriguez, who operates a taco stand where the laborers meet to look for work every morning. Luz insists she is simply a business proprietor and in the U.S. legally, but Sartana suspects ulterior motives.
Machete is approached by the mysterious Booth (Jeff Fahey). Machete assumes he is looking for day labor, but Booth has larger plans. He offers Machete $150,000 to assassinate Senator McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro), who "has a hardline stance against wetbacks, his words", quotes Booth. Realizing he has no other choice but to accept the job, Machete goes to work only to find he has been set up. From there, he embarks on a quest to find out why he was set up, in the process evading law enforcement and being forced to confront demons from his past.
Machete is an ACTION film in the Robert Rodriguez sense of the word. An imaginative and skillful director, he choreographs violence like no one else. The kills in this film are quite original; some of the good ones include Machete disemboweling a victim and using his intestines to escape (just watch it!), a man being stomped to death by a low rider, and a crucifixion scene in a church. The heads roll, with the sword being mightier than the gun, although there's a lot of that too. One of the things that makes the action so fun is its inventiveness; characters creating makeshift weapons with surgical tools and electrical tape, motorcycles equipped with a machine gun at the base; pure Rodriguez: baaaaaadass! Also noteworthy are the excellent over the top gore effects, which harken back to the 80's heyday of Tom Savini, who coincidentally (or not), has a role as a Persian assassin hired to kill Machete.
With the exception of Alba, who looks good in the shower, but couldn't act her way out of it, the eclectic and well-known cast all deliver pitch-perfect performances. Although the film deals with the hot-button issue of illegal immigration by the Mexicans into the U.S., it is, at it's core, an exploitation film. However, it is subversive in its own way. The hero is an illegal Mexican immigrant, and the films villains are played by iconic American actors (okay, mostly B-actors). Jeff Fahey sinks his teeth in to the role of the power-hungry Booth, and DeNiro plays against type not as a villain (familiar territory), but as a cowardly villain who pretends to be strong, but switches sides when it's convenient as the typical corrupt politician. After years of seeing him play the confident tough guy, it was refreshing to see the legendary actor effectively play the film's comedic foil. Likewise, Don Johnson kicks ass as the sociopathic Lt. Stillman, who moonlights as a border patrol vigilante killing anyone who crosses his border. Cheech Marin and Lindsay Lohan also provide small, but memorable moments as Machete's brother turned padre and Booth's daughter, respectively.
For a film whose inception began as a fake trailer, Machete surprisingly turned out to be a fun, exhilarating thrill-ride with a solid plot and a tiny bit of substance. If you're looking for the film that's going to kick off the Oscar season, look elsewhere. This is pure popcorn entertainment for fans of 70's exploitation, as well as fans of Rodriguez. Machete could do for Danny Trejo what The 40-year Old Virgin did for Steve Carell by turning a relatively minor actor into a major movie star.