Thursday, January 6, 2011


While it seems that I’ll have to eventually get a BluRay player just to properly enjoy Grindhouse at home, it’s very nice to see how its legacy is still living. Of the four fake trailers made for the movie (plus a fifth semi-official one that only played in Canada and select cities that were nowhere near me), we now have Robert Rodriguez’s Machete made into a feature length film as well as Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun and Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving coming out later this year. I can only hope we also get Edgar Wright’s Don’t before this wonderful madness is over and done with, but I’ll happily take Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS instead if it means he stops doing terrible remakes for a while.

As an offshoot of Grindhouse, this is by glorious design overwhelmingly trashy and exploitative, and may well be the most energetically race baiting film since Birth of a Nation. If this all sounds somewhat hyperbolic, then so be it: this is a very hyperbolic film, after all, one where there’s no use in the main character just stabbing a group of villains with all of his knives if he can attach them all to the end of a rope and swing them at everyone instead, and one in which Lindsay Lohan can’t possibly be expected to seek revenge against her father’s killer without randomly putting on a nun outfit first. It’s the exact kind of madness and space logic that you would get in the best exploitation films of the 70s, when you wouldn’t be able to watch the movie without understanding that some serious drugs were involved in the film’s making.

The film, before I get too carried away, stars Machete (Danny Trejo), who lives the life of an illegal day laborer in Texas after a haunting prologue where his career as a Mexican federale ends in his wife’s murder. After showing off his skills a bit in a street fight, he’s hired to assassinate a hardline conservative politician (Robert DeNiro) who’s clamoring to close off the border (with a literal electrified fence) and has been connected with a vigilante group that may have been “disappearing” illegals as they try to cross the border. Of course, it’s all a setup to boost the politician’s voting base by showing how dangerous illegal immigrants are, and soon Machete is on the run from the police while finding allies in the most unlikely places: his priest brother (Cheech Marin), an immigration official (Jessica Alba), and the head of an underground group that helps Mexicans sneak across the border (Michelle Rodriguez).

Of course, all of this is making it sound like there’s a more coherent plot than was ever intentioned: according to IMDB the film was so ridiculous that Chris Cooper refused to be in it, saying it was “the most absurd thing I’ve ever read”, and he was in Adaptation. It’s largely an exercise in connecting as many scenes of graphic violence (and wow is it violent) and hot naked women (you even get to briefly see Lindsay Lohan’s tits, for all of you that have been clamoring to see them, though Jessica Alba is still all about that No Nudity clause) as it can, and that utter disinterest in plot does unfortunately mean that all the scenes in between the action-based ones and the naked ones tend to be somewhat boring, but they’re fortunately mostly brief. Supposedly he had already filmed more than half of the movie when making Grindhouse with Tarantino, and just gathered up some friends and big names to film the rest of it. That helps explain the disjointedness somewhat, even though I wasn’t paying close enough attention to know which scenes were filmed when, beyond the ones that made the original trailer.

Still, the sex and violence in this film is completely ridiculous. Not only is Lohan topless (and while Alba and Rodriguez don’t get naked, they are in skin tight outfits in every scene), but two other women (as well as a body double for Lohan) are completely naked the entire time they’re in the movie, because why shouldn’t they be? There’s also, as one might expect from a film called Machete, nonstop stabbings, slashings, beheadings, shootings, explosions, a guy that gets his guts yanked out of him and used as a rope, a guy that gets burned up in an explosion, a man is crucified, Steven Seagal shows up with a sword a couple times…I’ll be honest, I’m a lifelong horror fan, and I can’t think of more than a handful that were gorier than this was. I noticed Roger Ebert never reviewed it; he probably would have been horrified enough for another hospital stay.

I think what I most enjoy about Rodriguez and his films is that he’s never afraid to go as low as possible to entertain his fans, and he has never before gone so low or so far as he does here. It’s entirely an exercise in being as wild and extreme as exploitation fans all wish the drive in movies of the 70s had actually been, and in that it succeeds perfectly. If it doesn’t have anything else really going for it, well, that’s still more than enough for me.

Rating: *** ½

P.S. I’ll be in Florida next week, so no updates for any of you. Yes, I know how this breaks your hearts.

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