Danny Trejo Thinks This Headline Is Wussy 

625_Machette.jpg

Machete
Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis

With his scuffed shoe-leather face and hostage-negotiation growl, Danny Trejo commands the screen with abrupt, almost hilarious ease. In his first full-scale starring role, this gangbanger-turned-drug-counselor-turned-boxing-coach-turned-bit-actor plays a Mexican federale turned migrant laborer and double-crossed soldier of fortune, and Robert Rodriguez plays everyone off him: Jessica Alba's terribly earnest immigration officer, Michelle Rodriguez's Mexican-American activist and Lindsay Lohan's addled rich bitch; Steven Seagal's bloated coke kingpin and Jeff Fahey's mulletted trafficker; Don Johnson's Minuteman and Robert DeNiro's Texas state senator, whose references to illegal-immigrant "cucarachas" recall former exterminator Tom DeLay, and whose gladhandling of vigilante sentiment makes him the anti-Travis Bickle. Opposite Trejo's scabby deadpan, they seem all seem silly, incongruous, arbitrary—Trejo's de facto distancing effect, more than the usual pointedly gratuitous boobs and bloodletting (or both, as in the gun-toting sexy nurses), is Rodriguez's clever way of winking at the audience from within his B-movie homage.

Rodriguez, author of Rebel Without a Crew and director of 10-Minute Film School, uses a fast-cheap-and-out-of-control ethos to excuse his gory and misogynist drive-in kicks, but he's far from a scrambling low-budge savant—with the state-of-the-art digital equipment at his disposal, his films frequently feel more like a gamer's idea of instant gratification. He's just not resourceful—he can stage a triple beheading with what feels like a few keystrokes, and after a while it's numbing (though the setpiece in which Machete steers a car from the backseat by the driver is among several rather ingenious bits). Though its politics are as hectically au-courant and intermittently low-blow funny as a live-blog ("I Want YOU… To Speak English," reads one placard), Machete was first glimpsed a few years ago, as a trailer for a parody exploitation movie in Grindhouse. It's mostly because of Trejo, stoic as a gargoyle, that the joke doesn't wear itself out.

Opens September 3

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