Spout About: "Machete" -- Too Blunt or Just Dumb Fun?

by Christopher Campbell
September 3, 2010 5:47 AM
8 Comments
  • |

Spout About is a prompt for discussion of a movie you've already seen, in this case Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis' "Machete." The post and its comments may include spoilers. We encourage you to watch the movie and then come back and talk about it in full without tiptoeing around plot points or conclusions.

A woman sitting near me in an over-packed (I was sitting on a staircase with other stragglers) late-evening screening of "Machete" yelled out at one point, "they're out of their minds!" I'm not sure if she meant the filmmakers or the characters on the screen, but either way she's right. Robert Rodriguez's "Grindhouse" spin-off, which is hard to call an adaptation of a 'fake' trailer since the idea was conceived as a feature in the first place, is not so much mindless action fare as it is half-minded, in a good way. The story and its players are so embedded in the immigration debate that the movie is clearly trying to contribute to the topic, yet it constantly leaps out of its figurative head, abandoning any brain activity it has for long periods, and asks its audience to do the same, for an over-the-top celebration of big guns, bigger knives and gigantic balls.

The plot is your basic exploitation film fodder, with an anti-hero ex-cop (specifically ex-Federales) set up in an assassination plot, the kind in which the conspirators are looking to boost their own cause by sacrificing its puppet leader and framing its enemy for it. Danny Trejo's titular outlaw is also eventually out for some vengeance -- the film's prologue somewhat establishes "Machete" as Rodriguez's "Kill Bill" with a tragic confrontation with a Mexican drug lord (Steven Seagal) -- and still makes plenty of time for the ladies (Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, among them). He's the Mexican Shaft, I guess, though the movie really wants to be the Mexploitation equivalent of all Blaxploitation movies at once. There's also a play on the identity themes of spaghetti westerns, only now the man is all name and no country. But as smart as it could be, "Machete" wants to keep things fun and simple and for every bit of social or political commentary there are at least a hundred bits of cartoonish slaughter and things getting blowed up good.

Anyone who calls "Machete" dull or boring needs to get out to shows like the one I attended. The majority of the audience was indeed minorities, the people who best relate to a movie dealing with racism and xenophobia, and they definitely enjoyed every second. Regardless, though, no matter what your background or level of marginalization, you can easily get excited in a crowd like this. I hadn't seen so much cheering and clapping and justifiable shouting ("It's Cheech!" -- half the crowd, approvingly) during a movie in a long time. And the energy was infectious. I didn't always revel as much in the sex, drugs and violence as my fellow moviegoers did, but I reveled in their delight. I can't help it, I love to witness a film audience having a great time.

So it's wild, but is "Machete" constructive? It's certainly in-your-face enough with its political theme that you'll be surprised you don't leave the theater as scarred as Trejo. The immigration issue itself is so ridiculous right now, though, that it calls for a response this outrageous. For good or bad, the illegal alien thing has always been ripe for the bluntest kind of satire and the most blatant allegory. Look at the unsubtle gag at the center of "A Day Without a Mexican." And next month you can see the sci-fi indie "Monsters," which is less explicit than "Machete" but no less on-the-nose in its handling of the border topic. Here, the mix of overt irony and gratuitous bloodshed is definitely not going to change any minds or offer viable solutions (not productive ones anyway), but the laughter and revenge and vigilantism fantasy is therapeutic for times as void of reason as these (I'll forward the emails I get from conservative relatives if you want to see the worst of it).

I'm perfectly okay with the mix of serious issue and stupid action that Robert Rodriguez, his co-writer Alvaro Rodriguez and his co-director/editor Ethan Maniquis are going for. It's a part of that exploitation tradition. And I never understood why someone can't have their cake -- or in this case "his churros" -- and eat it too. Sure they can. And they have. I also don't believe anyone can honestly believe "Machete" is a modern day "Birth of a Nation," potentially encouraging a real-life underground network of armed illegals as D.W. Griffith's film inspired a return of the Ku Klux Klan. The movie is a release, not a stimulus. Then again, I find it a little too easy for Robert Rodriguez to say talking about the immigration issue puts him to sleep and act like his movie isn't a form of comedic protest.

Can we completely leave the politics out of it and merely enjoy "Machete" for its artistic merits and basic action fantasy, as some suggest? By the point of the absurd and anarchic climax, which pits Machete and the network of immigrants against a civilian border patrol at the latter's training headquarters, while too many characters converge and display confused or complicated motives and affiliation (what is up with Seagal's final moment? what is Lindsay Lohan's habit-garbed deal?), it is very easy to ignore the film's political ideas if not divorce your own beliefs from what you're watching. Anyway the film ends with a very politically charged ironic death, so we're left thinking about the border issue after all that ridiculous mayhem. But I for one can appreciate the blunt political themes and idiotic tone with equal measure. If that somehow makes me both a scholar and a moron, so be it.

Any thoughts on or questions about "Machete," drop a comment below.

Follow Spout on Twitter (@Spout) and be a fan on Facebook
Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic)

get email updates
  • |
You might also like:

8 Comments

  • Dee Berry | September 8, 2010 9:00 AMReply

    The over-the-top plot twists--double-double agents, fake anti-immigration campaigns designed to increase drug profits, senators moonlighting as vigilantes, and more--only illustrate the ridiculousness of our insistence on border security and deportation of illegals while living in total dependence on cheap labor that illegal immigrants provide in jobs that poor Americans won't do. How many of us would take a roofing job in 100+ degree temperature?

  • TR | September 4, 2010 2:38 AMReply

    Christopher Campbell stated:

    " but the laughter and revenge and vigilantism fantasy is therapeutic for times as void of reason as these (I’ll forward the emails I get from conservative relatives if you want to see the worst of it)."

    Yes, please do Mr. Campbell. Please do. I'd like to see 'the worst of it'. Yes, we must assume that conservatives, in your mind, are 'void of reason' for wanting a secure border.

    I guess you haven't travelled outside your country, because every other nation on the globe has a border and it's protected. Come to Japan and see what happens when Chinese or Indonesians try to get in to get a job.

  • schizoidman | September 4, 2010 2:30 AMReply

    Loved it! Could even have been more violent, more graphic. Maybe the sequels.

    This is a political message film, without a doubt. Of course RR knows this and admits it (in private). He's not stupid, he's also a businessman and very shrewd. He knows it will divide, but at the same time, most great art does divide.

    It's only going to get more ballistic. Just watch.

    What I'm really looking forward to is the reverse sequel! (Not by RR).

    -
    A POSSE OF LEGAL ALIEN VIGILANTES TAKE ON THE DRUG CARTELS THEMSELVES.

    Led by a man who lost his family - and his soul - in a hit gone wrong, revenge is only the beginning of what he is about to do to the entire Mexican underworld and government and a lot of innocent civilians. A lot.

    "You MFs made my life a living hell. So I'm bringing Hell to you!"

    When the cartel leaders return to their town after a business meeting, they see their wives and girlfriends, pregnant women, children, grandchildren are skewered on poles - mouth to anus - all along the town's border. And that's just a warning of what's to come.

    This vigilante is unmerciful and unstoppable. Think Keyser Söze meets Mad Max meets Genghis Khan and you'll start to get the idea.

    Japanese and Hong Kong production. I've got financing secured and leads attached.

    Stay tuned.

  • Christopher Campbell | September 4, 2010 1:35 AMReply

    TR,

    I've traveled plenty outside the U.S. And I'm fine with border security, just not border insecurity, the kind that has us living in fear about what can come through.

  • Christopher Campbell | September 3, 2010 10:18 AMReply

    Annie Jo,

    I don't think more white people are slaughtered here than in most action and horror movies. But I also didn't keep count. There are a lot of hispanics killed, too.

    Also, I don't know if it changes your view that I'm a racist, but I am as pale as they come. I don't know if you assumed I'm not white.

  • Vince | September 3, 2010 9:28 AMReply

    I guess I should've seen it at your theater, because after the cool scenes at the beginning, I thought it was pretty dull. At least it wasn't as lame as "A Day Without a Mexican." I'll still be a Trejoto for life.

  • Vince | September 3, 2010 9:24 AMReply

    Aw, shit, who let the tea party retard in here?

  • Annie Jo | September 3, 2010 8:44 AMReply

    Quoting from you "The majority of the audience was indeed minorities, the people who best relate to a movie dealing with racism and xenophobia, and they definitely enjoyed every second. Regardless, though, no matter what your background or level of marginalization, you can easily get excited in a crowd like this."

    Hmmmm, a crowd of mostly "people of color" cheering the slaughter of white people? The question mark? I haven't seen the movie, nor will I. The simple fact, that you make ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION about racism and xenophobia, makes you the rabid Anti-American Anti-white racist bigot.

    ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION is about a predominantly group of foreign nationals, mostly hispanic, from mostly hispanic countries, entering a predominantly white country, illegally. The only reason ILLEGAL HISPANIC ALIENS are able to play the race card, is because they are trespassing, into a majority white country. If the U.S. was a predominantly hispanic country, they would have nothing to use, to try to argue away their immoral crimes.

    The U.S. has the SAME EQUAL RIGHT to determine, who comes into their country, just as much as, every other country, like Mexico, China, India, Africa, and so forth, and so on.

    It is only predominantly white countries, that are labeled racist, for doing what every country does: securing their borders.

    The fact, that you revel in the enjoyment of a group of minorities, cheering the slaughter of whites, even if make believe, shows who the racists are. It isn't white folk, no matter how much, you wish it was.

    To RABID RACISTS like you, it is hilarious to see white people slaughtered.

Most "Liked"