Critical Mass: 'Machete'
Undeterred by the poor box-office performance of "Grindhouse," his 2007 collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, writer-director Robert Rodriguez has returned to the world of low-budget exploitation flicks for his latest offering, "Machete."
This blood-soaked shoot-'em-up starring genre mainstay Danny Trejo as one angry Mexican federale was inspired by one of "Grindhouse's" fake trailers and according to Tribune film critic Michael Phillips, it probably should have stayed there as part of the truncated double feature. "At 105 minutes, 'Machete' is at least half an hour too long for its own good. It would've worked better at that length as one-half of 'Grindhouse,' certainly better than Rodriguez's own 'Planet Terror' did."
But surprisingly, Phillips' pan is in the minority, as most critics are finding something to love in "Machete's" embrace of drive-in cinema's more lurid elements.
The New York Times' Stephen Holden describes the movie as a comedy and laughs off suggestions from political talk radio that the film could start a race war. He writes the film "begins with a massacre involving a naked woman and many severed heads, and it keeps on slamming and banging with a gleeful, nose-thumbing insouciance."
Rolling Stone's Peter Travers seemed to enjoy the film, but maybe he was just too beaten down by the film's relentless mayhem to lodge much of a protest. He finds much to praise in Trejo, even though he describes him as looking "like four miles of torn-up road"; he claims the actor brings much charisma to his role. "Just to hear Trejo deadpan the line 'Machete don't text' is tasty compensation," he concludes.
Even female critics, probably not Rodriguez's target demo, seemed to find pleasure in "Machete's" mayhem. USA Today's Claudia Puig writes, " 'Machete' reeks with violent excess and gratuitous nudity. Some of those include Lohan in a nun's habit (after cavorting around naked and uttering leaden line readings), Cheech Marin as a gun-toting priest, De Niro as the rabid senator shooting wildly at immigrants as they run across the border. Clearly, nothing's sacred here."
The website Latino Review has two reviews up for "Machete." One, by Ron Henriques, is glowingly positive, calling this Rodriguez's best film in years. He writes, "This is the Robert Rodriguez of old, before he built his own studio and had enough money in his pocket to get any project he wants off the ground. Granted, Rodriguez makes full use of the resources success has made available to him, but 'Machete' recaptures the guerrilla style that put him on the map."
Henriques' colleague across the aisle, George "El Guapo" Roush, was less enthusiastic about the film. In an intro to his joint video review with Moviefone's Jenna Busch, Roush warns, "It's shocking, disgusting, and I do not recommend this to my Christian brothers and sisters." In the video, he claims the film is about 20 minutes too long and cluttered with too many subplots. Despite the gratuitous nudity and violence, Busch actually claimed to like it more.
So has Rodriguez actually succeeded in making a blood-and-boobs film for the ladies? The Labor Day weekend box office will reveal all....
--Patrick Kevin Day
Photo: Danny Trejo is "Machete." Credit: 20th Century Fox