Rated R, 4 stars
When I was a kid, my parents took me, my brother and my sister to the Pendleton Pike drive-in to see Wild in the Streets, a 1968 American International Pictures exploitation movie about a young rock star (Christopher Jones) who leads a teen revolution and takes over the country. He gets elected president and the new government forces everyone over 30 into "Peace Camps" where they are put on hallucinogens to keep them happy and harmless. I thought it was the greatest film I had ever seen and was surprised and annoyed when my dad kept laughing at the bold cinematic call-to-arms. "Enjoy yourself now," I thought, "You won't be laughing when the real revolution happens!"
Wild in the Streets was cheap, tacky, absurd and, yes, funny. I recognized the cheapness then (not enough people in the crowd scenes) but I bought into the fantasy so completely that it didn't matter. The movie stirred me up real good, like a juicy exploitation movie should.
Machete reminded me of Wild in the Streets. It's not as good, of course — how could it be? — but the 105-minute extravaganza of bad-ass battles, punctuated with the occasional steamy encounter between our hero and a woman, is fun and satisfying on some primal level. Me like watch noble warriors fight evil oppressors.
I don't want to oversell the movie. My expectations for the Robert Rodriguez production were low. While the phony Machete trailer included in Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's 2007 "double-feature" feature Grindhouse was entertaining, my patience for Rodriguez is limited. His homage-filled retro, post-modern, ironic, too-cool-for-school diddling gets old fast. So I decided to watch Machete strictly on the surface level. He calls it a Mexploitation flick, so fine, I'll watch it that way.
The plot: Veteran supporting actor Danny Trejo stars as Machete, a former Mexican federale whose wife and child are murdered by a drug kingpin (Steven Seagal, looking mean and bloated). In America illegally, Machete gets hired by a rich guy (Jeff Fahey, fresh from flying off Lost) to assassinate a Texas state senator (Robert De Niro, wallowing in his role) running for reelection on a crude anti-illegal immigrant platform. He also gets involved with the leader of the pro-immigrant network (Michelle Rodriguez) and a tough but sympathetic immigrations agent (Jessica Alba). There's a double-cross, of course, and Machete ends up pursued by pretty much everybody.
What else do you need to know? Don Johnson plays a racist killer. So does special-effects whiz Tom Savini. And Lindsay Lohan makes an appearance, showing her tits in one scene, which is followed by a more modest scene where her hair just happens to cover her breasts. I wonder why ... oops, I started thinking for a minute there.
No details of the gory particulars here. Suffice to say that the weak of stomach will need to turn their heads, while the weak of mind will laugh a lot. I was happy to see Trejo get to be the star – he's good at it. I was happy to watch the mayhem, though the colossal sloppiness of the big battle scene near the end was almost too much to overlook, even watching just on a primal level.
Obviously, the film addresses the immigration issue, with all the finesse Wild in the Streets used to examine the social revolution of the '60s. Want to get pissed off because the illegals are the heroes and the white American males are all greedy thugs, racists or greedy thugs and racists? Well, calm your ass down, Skippy. During Wild in the Streets, my dad watched as his generation was mocked and maligned all over the place, and he laughed. So lighten up. And don't forget to lower your standards, too. Machete is trash. See it twice.
NOTE: As of this writing, the average rating for Machete on the Rotten Tomatoes website was 6.5 out of 10, which means that most reviewers enjoyed the movie one star less than I did.