If anything, Machete may be cursed by three years of expectations being built up. When Grindhouse first was released, nearly everyone I knew thought that the then-faux Machete trailer was the best part of the film. Lord knows Death Proof was unbearable, and Planet Terror was simply not awful when held up against its shittier counterpart. But, independent of the original presentation, the trailer held up well. When Machete became closer and closer to becoming an actual film*, a certain subset of the populace was abuzz (and I really am not exaggerating).
*I, for one, was not entirely convinced it would actually get made, assuming the project's fate would ultimately lie in pre-production limbo for eternity.
Well, it took more than three years, but Robert Rodriguez has finally delivered on his promise to give his cousin, Danny Trejo, a star-vehicle.
And for the most part it works.
Such a long time waiting for something is bound to have the detrimental effect on one's enjoyment of the film. In Austin, it was damn near impossible to avoid little bits of news regarding the film. Either your roommate was behind Jessica Alba in line at Whole Foods or your friend heard her throwing up in the bathroom after eating a salad at a local restaurant, but waiting for Machete, at least in Austin, was somewhat agonizing.
When a movie that cannot come out fast enough takes three-plus years, your imagination begins to run wild. While Rodriguez is clearly cognizant of this (as is evident in the opening minutes as an already severed head is chopped in half again as it sits on its owner's shoulders and a cellphone is procured from a vagina), there simply isn't enough fucked up shit in the world that could happen in a movie to exceed what my fucked up imagination has conjured up.
That being said, this is a Mexploitation explosion of crazy deaths and crazier characters. The motivation of the villains is pretty timely and their cutthroat nature raises the stakes for the hero. Steven Seagal is great in all the best ways. Jessica Alba doesn't have to stretch too far. Jeff Fahey is surprisingly maniacal* and makes it hard to believe that he hasn't gotten a lot more work in the past 15 years. And while Michelle Rodriguez usually irritates me, even she didn't bring me down.
*Was it just me, or was it hard to believe his diatribe against anti-immigration when you knew that it would just be putting the Lawnmower Man out of work?
What was surprising to me was that I was a little disappointed in the man I was most pumped about: Danny Trejo. Maybe he doesn't actually have what it takes to carry a film. Maybe the role was too heavy on the stoicism and not heavy enough on the badass one-liners, but the one thing that detracted from the film for me was Machete. Don't get me wrong, when the blades are a swinging and the action sequences are in full gear, Trejo is pretty sweet, but in the down time the film does drag a bit because the hero is too one-dimensional.
Yes, it's a Mexploitation film. The delicious trashiness is great. The cheeky dialogue elicits more than its fair share of laughs. The film is a success for the most part. I suppose the hero is sort of the exploitation archetype, but it just seems like someone like Richard Roundtree was bringing a little more to the table, and that is not a sentiment that I was expecting to have if we're being totally honest.