Before she signed on to make "Machete," the campy celebration of the eponymous Latino legend, Michelle Rodriguez had pretty much decided she didn't want to make a movie about her own culture.
"I was nervous about doing a movie about Latinos. I've usually stayed away from it," she told 24 Frames, saying she found most depictions of Latino culture on the big screen to be one-note and marginal. "But after I read the script, I realized this is about a symbol of hope. It was kind of the way we felt about Obama when he was first elected."
The Robert Rodriguez movie wouldn't, on its face, be considered a grand political statement. Although it could be categorized as an immigration-law satire and an exploration of Latin identity, it's also an exploitation film whose linchpin scene features low riders shooting missiles. Among other selling points, it offers the rare triple whammy of Lindsay Lohan engaging in a ménage à trois, shooting Robert De Niro and dressing up as a nun, while the film generally takes advantage of most opportunities for comedically over-the-top violence. (It also throws in character parts for Don Johnson, Steven Seagal and Cheech Marin and a leading role for longtime baddie Danny Trejo. Read more about him here: "Danny Trejo, a lethal talent.")
But despite its goofier side, the depiction of Machete as a symbol of hope for a Latino community, at a time when, as the movie noted satirically, immigration fears were running riot, heartened Rodriguez. And to the extent it shows Latinos and whites working together, she says, it felt even more ideological.
"It was like seeing Run DMC and Aerosmith doing that video together," she said, referring to "Walk This Way." "It was like, 'Yeah, man, we can all do this together and laugh about it.' "
Indeed, "Machete" is a hybrid rarity for a time when most political movies are starchy affairs, and most studio escapism stays far away from hot-button issues,
The film has had one of the more unusual runs to the screen, one in which fiction and truth blended together nearly indistinguishably.
Conceived and written by Robert Rodriguez in the mid-1990s, the script sat on the shelf for more than a decade, until 2007, when Rodriguez included a fake trailer for it in "Grindhouse," his homage to exploitation films with Quentin Tarantino. The trailer got more attention than the whole movie, and fans started wondering when it was coming out. So Rodriguez went ahead and made it.
The film then further caught on fire when the filmmaker (who directed the movie with Ethan Maniquis) re-cut a trailer at the height of the Arizona immigration controversy to make a statement condemning the state's law. "I guess it's been a little confusing about what this is about," he quipped to us when we interviewed him recently. "All I need to do is cut more trailer and it would really confuse people."
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo:Michelle Rodriguez in 'Machete.' Credit: 20th Centiry Fox
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