Machete goes beyond what you expect and, in one way at least, breaks ground. Machete is the first Mexploitation film. Now, I have never been a big fan of the term “blaxploitation.” The term was a take on the older “exploitation” term but it implies exploitation of black actors. Gordon Parks and Melvin Van Peebles were not exploiting anyone in my book.
Machete’s plot is like any good exploitation film (or Kung Fu movie). Friends/family are killed, necessitating vengeance. One thing that Robert Rodriguez does is edit out one normal part of such a movie, a part where the protagonist “trains” or recovers. That is always boring and Rodriguez dispenses with that in its entirety.
Good movies are made by the little things. And one of the little things that stand out is a brief scene wherein henchmen discuss why it is they work for their evil boss. After all he is an asshole! Funny and surprisingly subtle for a movie called “Machete.”
Another “little thing"? You know the now obligatory action movie scene where someone jumps out a window with a rope, fire hose, whatever and then swings into another window? Imagine, instead of using rope the protagonist uses someone’s intestines.
Numerous small cameo roles (Tom Savini, for instance) also add where, in other films, they might distract. Actors who come off in small roles better than you might expect include Steven Segal (whose last scene is pretty hilarious). Don Johnson as a vigilante immigrant hunter also chews up the scenery with gusto.
It is silly. It self consciously uses ever cliché from every exploitation movie of every variety ever made. Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have been trying for some time to update these movies and this may be the most successful attempt.
The blaxploitation films were all about the oppression of the man and often painted ludicrous pictures of conspiracy theories. Rodriguez does the same in this movie, drug dealers, vigilantes and Texas politicians are all in bed together. Some villains escape from death so they can be killed more ironically later.
It all moves along nicely, even if you cringe a little at some brief Danny Trejo love scenes (poor, poor Jessica Alba) but those are brief and Trejo seems a little stiff and embarrassed in them. But they HAVE to be in the movie. Those scenes are ALWAYS in these movies.
Whenever it starts to slow a little, there is a gun battle, explosions or choppings. The film certainly has the requisite number of machete beheadings and de-limbings for a film under this moniker. Characters appear and are dispatched.
And it ends on an almost Grapes of Wrath note with Trejo in the Tom Joad role….ok..ALMOST ends that way. Tom Joad didn’t have a chopper.