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Sunday, March 20, 2011


Those of you who watched the double feature Grindhouse a while back -- and, according to the box office take, there weren't many of you -- may remember the previews of coming attractions in between the two movies. Those previews were probably the best thing about the double feature, which was meant to evoke the sensationalistic, gory B-movies of the 1950's, which were often viewed at drive-ins. The two features were directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.

One of the previews was for a movie called Machete, about a former Mexican federale whose family is killed by a drug dealer, and who winds up as a day laborer in Texas, where he must do battle with corrupt politicians and vigilantes who are financed by that same drug dealer. Robert Rodriguez decided to do a movie based on that preview, which is a first in Hollywood -- a movie based on a fake preview. 

The plot is, of course, just a flimsy excuse for a lot of comic book violence and mayhem. The movie stars Danny Trejo, a one-time drug addict and armed robber, and later welterweight boxing champion of San Quentin. (These facts seem curiously to have been excised from his Wiki bio.) In any case, Trejo's badass credentials are well established. He now seems to be the go-to guy for tough guy roles, and appeared in 18 movies in 2010 alone. 

Robert Rodriguez is in fact Trejo's second cousin, a fact that they only discovered on location for another film. But Rodriguez is from the part of the family which grew up on the right side of the tracks (pictures of him reveal not a trace of Indian blood). Rodriguez is also a graduate of the University of Texas. When a middle class boy tries to establish his badass credentials, the results are usually ugly. Machete is a case in point. 

For this kind of movie to work, it must function effectively as both an adventure movie and as a spoof of old movies. Machete works semi-effectively as a spoof. But as a movie, it seems calculated to appeal solely to a certain kind of young male who would otherwise be reading comic books. ("Wow -- he sliced off the heads of three of his enemies with a single slash of his machete -- cool!!!!!!!!")

A lot of scenes like that strung together are just not enough to sustain a movie. Especially when it seems the filmmakers couldn't decide if they wanted to do an homage to those old B-movies, or a satire of them.

The two female leads, Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba, also seem calculated to appeal to that same demographic, young men who love comic books. The two look almost like sisters, and prance around in similar high heels and come hither looks. When Rodriguez arrives for the final battle scene, she is dressed in skin tight jeans, high heels, and a bikini top -- or is that just a black bra?

Robert DeNiro appears as the corrupt Texas politician. Sometimes he speaks in a southern accent, sometimes in a New York accent. Even when he is in Southern mode, his accent goes back and forth between a Texas twang and the backwoods hillbilly accent he used in Cape Fear. But that's okay, none of the other characters -- or the director -- seemed to notice. Or was that by design, part of the spoof?

The best thing I can say for the movie was that I was never bored.

I wish I could also say I was never confused. But I could just never figure out if I was supposed to be laughing with the film or at it.

Men whose first love is comic books ought not be allowed to direct movies.

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