In 2007's Grindhouse, the commercially unsuccessful double feature experiment by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, the highlights were arguably the trailers for nonexistent exploitation films that played between the two features. Rodriguez's own phony trailer, "Machete", gave audiences a taste of what I wish Grindhouse had more of: sex and chaos.
In 2010, Rodriguez has finally gotten to take his apparently years-in-the-planning feature-length version of Machete to the big screen. Danny Trejo – the Chicano Charles Bronson – stars as a former Mexican cop now hiding out in Austin as a day laborer. He soon finds himself caught between an Underground Railroad-style network for immigrants, a corrupt racist senator, and all manner of shady characters.
With that wild 2007 trailer still embedded in the memory and a mind-boggling cast that includes Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, and Lindsay Lohan, Machete sure sounds like fun. But Rodriguez must have understood that the nonstop action in the trailer couldn't be sustained over a feature length film: all that insanity can get pretty boring when there's no story to hold it up. However, I think Rodriguez and his team erred too much on the side of caution, and Machete's script is surprisingly convoluted – which means there is a lot of exposition, cutting down on all the time that could have been dedicated to the sex and violence that audiences paid to see. And while I laud its earnest pro-immigrant politics, the heavy-handed message further drains the film of its energy.
Machete definitely has some great crazy moments, but they are few and far between, and Rodriguez and his longtime editor Maniquis (in his directorial debut) actually deliver rather flat action sequences. (As a friend put it, Rodriguez has been "phoning it in" when it comes to action ever since he made it big. I'm inclined to agree.) Machete is intermittently amusing, but because the movie promised so much dumb fun, yet wound up being neither enjoyably dumb nor particularly fun, I was disappointed.