Hit a bit of a milestone here. This review is post number 100 on The Film Dump. That means I’ve posted 42 items of random stuff and trailers. Been thinking about doing the odd, possibly ill informed, article about movies, the industry and filming techniques. Basically anything that tickles my fancy at the time. Speaking of filming techniques… When did become normal to purposely make poorly constructed films under the disguise of being “Grindhouse”?
Machete starts off with the appearance of being a revenge movie in the style of the late 70s/early 80s whatever-sploitation movies of the time. Machete (Danny Trejo) is a Mexican Federale who’s set up by his boss Torrez (Steven Segal, who’s not Mexican but seems to have a Mexican accent here) who promptly kills Machete’s wife and tells us his daughter is killed too. Machete is left for dead in a burning house and then the title credits roll. You’d think what is about to follow is a film where Machete goes out for a bloody kill heavy revenge possibly finding his daughter alive and then killing more people. Instead we leap forward 3 years with no explanation of how Machete survived, and nor do we ever get one, where he’s working in Texas just trying to stay low. A local apparent businessman (Micheal Booth played by Jeff Fahey) hires Machete to assassinate a local senator running for re-election. This Senator John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro… for some reason) plans to build a massive electrified fence alo0ng the border to Mexico to stop the illegal immigrants getting in. The Assassination is a set up (Something Machete seems to walk into) and so now he goes on a revenge plot with the aid of Jessica Alba’s Immigration Control officer Sartana.
Naturally Torrez is involved but he may as well not be. Sure Machete wants revenge for his wife and daughter’s death but he has no idea Torrez is part of the scheme until late in the film. Torrez has very little impact on the actual events of the film beyond telling Booth, via one of many video calls, to kill Machete. These video calls are intrinsic of one of this films biggest issues. There’s way more of them than the ones between Torrez and Booth and they’re indicative of what appears to be a film built, written and shot around various actors schedules. You might notice during viewing that a lot of scenes don’t involve much interaction between the actors. Michelle Rodriguez (Who plays a Taco stall owning people trafficker called Luz) and Jessica Alba seem to have the most interactions with Machete. Jeff Fahey has a couple. I’m pretty sure Robert DeNiro isn’t in the same shot as most of the cast. It’s like getting certain actors names on the films credits was more important than having them have any meaningful scenes with any other actors. There’s so many characters, a total of 4 main villains, that it seems a lot of the characters would have been made either to fill out the run time or to make sure they got as many scenes from the Grindhouse movie’s trailers as possible.
It’s this lack of genuine interaction between characters that gives the film an oddly staged feel to it. It’s by no means entirely jarring. I’d imagine there’s plenty of people that wouldn’t even notice, but I think even those people would notice that something isn’t right. Another issue that adds to this is the fact that scenario and setting have been deemed more important than characterisation and story. I know that a Grindhouse style film is meant to look and feel a certain way but that doesn’t mean story has to fall to the wayside. No matter what the film story, character and conflict are the main keys. When these don’t work something will feel off about the film. Characters are thinly veiled archetypes. Story seems to be more of a device to link up scenes from the original trailer the film is based on. Conflict I have already addressed with the actor’s schedules. Acting is reacting as some dude once said. If you have nothing to react off you’re not acting at your best and conflict/drama takes a hit.
What this film does satisfy on is it’s violence and dark sense of humour. There is some genuinely inventive moments of violence in this film ranging from a thermometer to the neck (Which fills up after the guy has been blown out of an exploding house) to a jumping rope swing from one floor of a hospital to another where the rope is a mans intestines. Oddly that latter one is actually set up by a clumsily added line of dialogue in an earlier scene. Whilst there is that annoying modern trend of digital blood (when did squibs ever fail to get the job done?) it’s never too distracting. No violence is shied away from and that’s how I like my revenge movies.
Machete does have it’s moments and it certainly does revel in the anything goes attitude of the Grindhouse film. What this film sorely needed was more actors willing to contribute their time to being on set together. Less random characters just there so no-one on Robert Rodriguez’s facebook friend list feels left out. Overall it feels disjointed and lacking in anything to keep you hooked beyond the promise of some decent action and some over-the-top violence. It’s been a long time since Rodriguez made a genuinely good film. Hopefully Sin City 2 (which is apparently going ahead any day now) will be his return to form. Somehow though I doubt it. He has failed me too many times in recent years. I blame his kids of course. Sharkboy and Lava Girl Man… what the hell?