2010, R, 105 min. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis. Starring Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 3, 2010

Machete is a movie that has been a long time coming, which gives this so-called Mexploitation film an extra kick now that its arrival coincides with a political climate in America that enhances its topicality. This revenge film’s roots go back to Rodriguez’s first employment of Trejo, the titular Machete, in the 1995 film Desperado. We then developed a mouthwatering taste for Machete when it appeared as one of the fake trailers sandwiched in between Rodriguez's and Quentin Tarantino’s halves of the B-movie throwback Grindhouse. It was one of the takeaway images from Grindhouse: Trejo as a wronged federale who is cloaked with nearly as many knives as a bird has feathers, a frightening visage, and that ominous tagline about having “fucked with the wrong Mexican.” A veteran actor who has appeared in nearly 200 Hollywood movies and a scary-looking survivor of San Quentin, Trejo is an unlikely candidate for the role of the newest superhero in filmdom. But there you have it: Rodriguez and co-director Maniquis have turned this Mexican-American with the fearsome face into the new Charles Bronson, and as Machete, Trejo has struck the mother lode of badass. Like in Bronson's Death Wish movies, the plot kicks off when Machete is double-crossed in Mexico and witnesses the gruesome murder of his wife and daughter by drug kingpin Torrez (Seagal). Three years later we pick up his trail as a day laborer in Texas, where a rabid anti-immigration movement is in full flourish, seen primarily in the personages of a shoot-to-kill vigilante (Johnson) and De Niro’s Senator McLaughlin, a racist who advocates for an electrified border fence. Things are no different for Machete on the American side of the border with corrupt politicians in cahoots with even more corrupt drug runners. The film piles on a host of entertaining characters, all of which are one-note caricatures that nevertheless serve the purposes of the film’s full-blast trajectory. (De Niro does some of his best supporting work in years, and Lohan’s appearance as a rich little druggie who schemes to increase her Web presence could not be more fortuitously timed.) The film’s ultraviolence is leavened by its humorous and creative edge. Yes, the violence and the ogling of women’s bodies are gratuitous and over-the-top, but the film’s self-awareness and the respect it has for its Seventies exploitation forebears keeps Machete from going over to the dark side. It’s a far cry from the nonsensical mayhem that marked Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. Also in keeping with the exploitation aesthetic is this film’s intrinsic incorporation of topical issues: in this case, border tensions. Machete doesn’t probe any intricacies or offer solutions, yet keeps the issue on a front burner throughout. “We didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us” is typical Rodriguez (who wrote the script with his cousin Álvaro Rodriguez) sloganeering. In the end, Machete may not be all that original, but it is fresh – fresh as a steel blade to the gut.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Machete
Austin Considers Film Incentives
Austin Considers Film Incentives
Localized subsidies proposed to fight off in-state competition

Richard Whittaker, April 22, 2014

Troublemaker Wants No Trouble in Texas vs. 'Machete Kills'
Troublemaker Wants No Trouble in Texas vs. 'Machete Kills'
Director Robert Rodriguez distances himself from incentives suit

Richard Whittaker, March 19, 2014

More Robert Rodriguez
<i>Alita: Battle Angel</i> Trailer Arrives
Alita: Battle Angel Trailer
Robert Rodriguez's new Austin-shot science-fiction epic

Richard Whittaker, July 23, 2018

<i>Alita: Battle Angel</i> Teaser Arrives
Alita: Battle Angel Teaser Arrives
First look at latest Robert Rodriguez film

Richard Whittaker, Dec. 8, 2017

More Robert Rodriguez Films
Robert Rodriguez and Ben Affleck team up for a pulpy mindbender

Richard Whittaker, May 12, 2023

Alita: Battle Angel
The manga heroine comes to motion capture life

Matthew Monagle, Feb. 15, 2019

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Joy Ride
Raunchy road trip goes all the way to China for filthy fun

July 7, 2023

All That Breathes
The struggle by three men to save the endangered black kite

March 31, 2023


Machete, Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis, Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle