September 5, 2010

Machete (09/05/2010)

Lettergrade: D+

I made my wife go see Machete with me, and I will have to live with the strain and damage it has inflicted on our marriage.

No seriously... it's not that bad, but make no mistake that it's bad. Here's a movie with several different influences that just don't sit well together. A small part of it seems to want to be The Kentucky Fried Movie occasionally and the other tries really hard to be cool with lots of blood n' guts badass'dness the likes of which were present in some of co-director Robert Rodriguez's earlier movies. Those two things tend to cancel eachother out to a certain degree, I think, and resulting the movie falls into that trap that many movies seem to these days... it works too hard to do too many things, and as a result succeeds at none of them entirely. It's amusing sometimes, but frankly not enough to be called a comedy. The action is intense and gruesome, albeit cartoony, and not really what I'd call "fun."

Three and a half years ago, Rodriguez made a fake trailer for Machete which was used as an interstitial bit during Grindhouse, the double feature tribute to low budget 70s exploitation flicks that he made with Quentin Tarantino. Fans seemed to agree that the fake trailers (Machete in particular) delivered much more satisfaction than the two movies themselves, each of which ran upwards of 90s minutes and seriously wore out their welcome. The popularity endured, in part because beloved character actor and Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo was so great in the role, and now Machete has been expanded to a feature's length of 1 hour and 45 minutes. In a way, it feels like a third Grindhouse feature, but with toned down mimicry of subpar 70s filmmaking. Also like those movies, it's one that feels like it might have played right at about 65-70 minutes rather than 100.

Part of what made the fake trailer so great was that we only got quick flashes of the absurd story, without any of that clunky set-up or pesky backstory to get in the way. The new movie sees fit not only to reuse (or recreate) as much of the trailer's material as it could, but to weave the peices into a storyline explaining how Machete gets from point A to point B to point C. Isn't brevity the soul of wit, to deploy an overused quote? And aren't certain things funnier if left pretty much unexplained?

The basic premise is that Machete, an ex-Federale living in Texas, gets wrapped up in a botched assassination attempt on an ardently anti-immigrant senator up for reelection. Give credit to Rodriguez for assembling an all-star cast including Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson and Steven Segal, but fault him at the same time for not coming up with something more interesting for all these people to do once they made it to set.

And a word about that, if I may... I really admire that Rodriguez has built his own studio empire in Austin... far from (and somewhat independent of) Hollywood, but at the same time I must acknowledge he coughs up what seems like 2 or 3 directing projects a year, most of them feel pretty mediocre, as this one does. Spielberg has directed multiple movies back to back before, and usually one will feel a little undernourished. You almost forgive him for being half-hearted with a Jurassic Park sequel or something like Minority Report, however, because there's a Schindler's List or a Catch Me If You Can or a Saving Private Ryan coming at the end of the line. If Rodriguez cuts short post-production on Spy Kids 3D, it's so he can jerk out The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D before the fiscal year ends. There's a key difference here, folks.

In any case, I'll give the movie some points for a few great laughs, but would overall describe it as malformed and unsatisfying: One you can safely skip, be it in the theaters or on DVD. Watch the original trailer again, though:

And check out my journal entry on Grindhouse.

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