NEW YORK –– Considering that the Arizona Legislature has recently brought the issue of illegal immigration to the fore, the arrival of the ultraviolent “Machete” (Fox), about a Mexican vigilante handy with sharp objects, is nothing if not timely.
In keeping with the grimy exploitation flicks of the 1970s he so admires, writer-director-producer Robert Rodriguez goes out of his way to tickle and offend. But by championing the rights of undocumented workers and pushing Latino power more generally, Rodriguez gives his latest a thought-provoking veneer that can be recognized apart from its perversities and stylistic aplomb.
Make no mistake: Jocular splatter, not political satire, is the name of the game here and “Machete” is a blunt, lurid instrument. Its genesis was a fake trailer that appeared between the two films Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino released as the double-bill “Grindhouse” in 2007. That talked-about teaser introduced the eponymous hero played by actor Danny Trejo, whose menacing visage will be instantly recognizable from scores of supporting film and television roles.
As fleshed out in this brutal scenario, Machete is an ex-Federale whose wife and daughter are murdered by the drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal). Presumed dead, Machete bides his time for three years working as a day laborer in a Texas border town until, on the basis of his fearsome appearance, he’s hired by crooked businessman Booth (Jeff Fahey) to kill a right-wing, anti-immigration state senator named John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro).
Unbeknownst to Machete and the conspirators who double-cross him, this assassination attempt will lead Machete to Torrez and help him empower the Mexican underclass at the same time.
Virtually impossible to sideline for more than a few frames, Machete fells opponents with an array of implements. We witness countless impalings, severed appendages, and decapitations, along with the requisite spurting of blood. In the movie’s most disgusting, over-the-top scene, Machete fashions an escape rope out of a thug’s intestines.
Viewers should be especially forewarned about Padre, a gun-toting Catholic priest played by Cheech Marin. Padre pays for desecrating his vows and violating numerous commandments by being nailed to a cross in the sanctuary of his church. As with most everything in this B-movie context, this torture sequence is difficult to take seriously, though that doesn’t minimize the wince factor or its patent inappropriateness.
The same holds for the character of Booth’s daughter April, played by Lindsay Lohan. A drug-addled wastrel, she has a liaison with Machete and her own mother, and then seeks revenge for her father’s murder while wearing a nun’s habit. Machete also gets cozy with a beautiful U.S. immigration agent named Sartana (Jessica Alba) and the militant Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who runs a taco truck as a front for an underground network that supports Hispanic aliens.
Finally, no one watching “Machete” can fail to think about the real-life suffering caused by the drug trade and the migration of the desperate across the U.S.-Mexico border. Fortunately, in the real world, there are individuals and organizations that stand up for the less fortunate without employing Machete’s immoral methods.
The film contains much gore; myriad acts of violence; sacrilegious behavior and banter; blatant sexuality, including much upper female nudity; semi-graphic encounters; pervasive rough language and profanity; considerable innuendo; torture; and vigilante justice. The Catholic News Service classification is O – morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service. More reviews are available online.