Three years ago, Machete (Danny Trejo) was a federal agent determined to bring in a gang of kidnappers, but he eventually decided to go it alone instead of waiting for any back-up. Arriving at the house where the girl was being held, he launched his car at the gates, killing some of the guards - but they shot dead his partner too. Machete brandished his trusty blade and set about the henchmen, sending body parts flying until he found the girl, but she was reluctant to go and so he carried her over his shoulder - then the chief bad guys showed up, and the extent of the subterfuge was revealed...
With Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse project, where they set out to recreate the trashy movies they had appreciated in their youth, it seemed as though the mass market was not as willing to go along with their updated nostalgia as they had hoped. Nevertheless, it didn't appear to put them off trying to plough that furrow for longer, as Rodriguez teamed up with one of his editors, Ethan Maniquis, to pad out one of the fake trailers in their epic (running) folly to feature length, those trailers being a part which everyone agreed was the most unashamedly enjoyable. The result was a film which did similarly iffy business, but won over a band of fans who responded with delight.
This was closer to Rodriguez's Mariachi movies, except that you could not quite see Antonio Banderas returning to get up to the down and dirty antics that the leathery-faced Trejo did here. Trejo was a lot less charming, for a start, whether it was those granite looks or the lack of dialogue which marked Machete out as not a man to get to know unless you really had to: as a walking embodiment of trouble you couldn't get a better screen presence, not for a film like this at any rate. Few who sought this out would be unaware of the original trailer, and therefore would know exactly what they were in for, but as we all know a great trailer does not always equal a great movie.
And Robert Rodriguez's cool ideas did not always equal great movies either, so you can understand why much of the general reception to Machete was closer to lukewarm than raving about it - better that than an outright slam, of course. Here he implemented his now-customary hiring of a number of big names and scattering their shot-in-a-few-days footage throughout the movie to make it look as if they had more to do that they actually did, a neat trick that could offer a starrier experience than your average straight to DVD flick which would not have been able to hire Robert De Niro, who here shows up as a corrupt senator running on an anti-immigration policy. Someone who would star in one of those lower budgeted affairs was Steven Seagal, and he was in this too as one of the villains.
But if you were expecting a return to the good old bad old days of seventies cinema, be aware that there were two features here to bring you out of your reverie. One was the feeling that Rodriguez had a bone to pick with the audience for not taking Mexican immigration to the United States seriously enough, so he had smuggled a lecture into his work to ensure the viewer came away with consciousness suitably raised: a worthy cause, but none to smoothly integrated in this case. The other was that the violence was more indebted to the slasher movies of the eighties rather than the action efforts, so much of it was of the novelty variety, fine in its place but tending to make much of this look goofy rather than badass. Fans of nudity might be let down by the tasteful fadeouts or strategically placed obstructions that prevented the bigger name actresses from being seen unclothed, although Lindsay Lohan rewards her followers if they were eagle-eyed enough. But that was the tone, a bit of fun, really, don't take it seriously, sit back and enjoy the mayhem; for what it was it succeeded over The Expendables. Music by John Debney and Carl Thiel.