Fox // 2010 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 10th, 2011
Any way you slice it, vengeance has a new name -- Machete.
I was -- and still am -- a huge fan of the Grindhouse concept. I seriously wanted that flick to be turned into an endless franchise, pairing directors with interesting ideas and stuffing it full of genre conventions and clever trailers. Sadly, based on the box office of Grindhouse, that's not to be. Luckily, though, one of the trailers was so popular it was green lit for a feature. After three years fans can finally enjoy the full-on exploitation flavor of Machete (Blu-ray). Although it's difficult to judge the quality of the final film and this Blu-ray release won't win any fans, Rodriquez has succeeded in bringing another love letter to the drive-in experience to viewers everywhere.
As the film opens, Machete (Danny Trejo, Predators) is a Mexican federale bent on rescuing a kidnapped young woman from the hands of a drug cartel. Despite his daring rescue, Machete is double-crossed and left for dead. Years later he's hired to assassinate a racist senator from Texas but is again double-crossed. Out for revenge, no one is safe from his blade.
The ugly truth is that Machete was never going to be as good as that first trailer. In those few moments Rodriquez packed enough plot, action, nudity, and exploitation surprises to fill 90 minutes, making the full feature a bit redundant. That's always the way with grindhouse pictures: the trailer promises one thing, the film delivers another. In fact, it's hard to imagine Machete as a perfect film. What would it look like? If it was "perfect," providing just the right blend of character, action, and plot, then it would betray its grindhouse roots, where so many of the films lacked niceties like motivation, logic, or narrative.
Instead, Machete is a beautifully flawed piece of exploitation material. Its main weakness is a general unevenness. Rather than going balls-to-the-wall for 105 minutes with nothing but T&A coupled with violence, the film takes a few detours into expanding the film's world, including a number of digs at the current situation regarding illegal immigrants. Really, the film is uneven because Rodriguez is so anxious to stuff everything he can into the film that there's no way 105 minutes can support all his ideas (and the deleted scenes hint at even more, which is just crazy). I can almost picture Rodriguez in the Texas heat dumping his Rolodex on the floor and saying "Who can I call?" It seems if they were alive he called them up to contribute to the film.
On the technical side that means a whole host of simply crazy special effects. Some of them are stunt-based, with a number of wonderfully shot hand-to-hand battles. Others are vehicular, including the machine gun and motorcycle scene featured in the trailer, while even more are of the subtle digital variety. Hands and heads getting lopped off, and the digital degradation of the "print," as well as various period effects, all look great.
In front of the camera Rodriquez takes the grindhouse penchant for casting over-the-hill actors in small roles to simply hilarious extremes. Obviously not all of Rodriquez's choices are over-the-hill (like say, Robert De Niro), but the sheer number of familiar faces is overwhelmingly fun. They include Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, Tom Savini, Don Johnson, and even Lindsay Lohan in roles of varying sizes. That completely ignores the fantastic performances from the leads Trejo and Alba. This was obviously the role Trejo was born to play. It takes his cinematic reputation and gives it the perfect outlet, and while it might not be the vehicle for the acting chops he's shown in other film, Machete does more than expected to show off the actors range. I'm also not the biggest fan of Jessica Alba, but she does a credible job with her role as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, coming off as surprisingly menacing despite her diminutive size. Other actors are up to par with this pair, especially De Niro and Michelle Rodriguez.
The film is well-matched with an excellent presentation on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 AVC encoded transfer does a perfect job of replicating the film's look and feel. The "print" has been intentionally degraded with fake damage, excess grain, and a generally low-budget look. Those imperfections look exactly as they should here, and when they let up, the rest of the film looks good without looking great (which would have betrayed the film's grindhouse roots). The audio matches the video step for step. Rodriquez has never shied away from aggressive audio mixes, and Machete is no exception. Expect a lot of workout for your subwoofer and the surrounds as bullets whiz and engines rumble. Dialogue is kept audible throughout, and the mix didn't have me reaching for the remote.
Machete leaves good taste at the door about 5 minutes in when a woman produces a hidden cell phone from her nether regions. If that kind of lowbrow gag is going to offend you, give this flick a wide berth. It's also a very violent picture, although more over the top than absolutely realistic in most places. Rodriquez is also completely unafraid of parodying hard line stances on immigration, so those who are sensitive on that issue might find something to take amiss with this flick.
Also, Machete deserves more extras than this. We get an audience reaction track, which is exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of people laughing/gasping/hootin 'n' hollerin' about when you'd expect. It's a good idea on paper, but doesn't really recreate a shared viewing experience. The other main extra is 11 minutes of deleted scenes. We see a pair of excised subplots that are fun and some odds and ends that point to a fuller director's cut. A BD-Live feature includes an additional scene, but my PS3 had trouble accessing it so your mileage may vary. Then we get a pair of the film's trailer, one with a red band and one without (and a brief intro to them from Rodriquez). There's a second disc with a Digital Copy of the film, but that's it.
The full-length Machete can't quite live up to the expectations generated by that frankly perfect trailer, but it offers enough clever violence and familiar faces to be a treat for fans of the director. Fans of the director should also know that this disc is not likely to be the last word we hear about Machete. A director's cut is a strong possibility in the future. For now this disc should only be for rental (and a possible purchase only if the director's cut disc doesn't include the theatrical feature).
Machete isn't a perfect cut, but it's not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audience Reaction Track
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy