“Machete” is based on a fake trailer attached to “Grindhouse,” that crazy 2007 tribute to low-budget moviemaking. Well, movies have been based on stranger things.
Sure enough, “Machete” fulfills the expectations of its uproarious trailer: it’s a satirical bloodbath that elevates a longtime character actor to a butt-kicking starring role.
That guy is the well-traveled Danny Trejo, a leathery dude who has played bad guys in dozens of films in his long career. Here he plays Machete, a former federal agent out for vengeance against the arch-villain (an enormous Steven Seagal) who killed his family.
Seems the arch-villain might also be involved in a Texas political race, where a race-baiting state senator (Robert De Niro) is campaigning on the illegal immigration issue. His conniving aide (Jeff Fahey) and their trigger-happy vigilante pal (Don Johnson) are especially excitable on the subject.
They plan to use Machete for their own purposes. But they messed with the wrong Mexican (to paraphrase a line from the original trailer).
The casting of the movie is a large part of the appeal. There’s Jessica Alba as an immigration agent, Michelle Rodriguez (from “Lost”) as a taco stand owner/leader of a Mexican-American underground and Cheech Marin as a priest.
All the movie needs is Lindsay Lohan toting a gun and dressed as a nun, ha ha. Oh wait — there she is, in the flesh, as it were.
This all comes from the fertile mind of Robert Rodriguez (co-directing here with Ethan Maniquis), the “Sin City” director and all-around fountain of creative mayhem. Along with creating a mood of over-the-top violence, Rodriguez spins variations on the horrible ways B-movie creeps might bite the dust.
Movies that take a jokey approach to a high body count usually set my teeth on edge, but Rodriguez finds a zany balance here: we always know we’re watching an exaggerated homage to a certain kind of grindhouse offering, so his berserk style makes a weird kind of sense.
Same goes for the political satire, which is new for Rodriguez. One early scene includes the vigilante and the senator shooting a pregnant Mexican woman at the border, to prevent her from delivering her “anchor baby” in the United States.
Only Robert Rodriguez could include a scene like that in a send-up of exploitation pictures and somehow get away with it. But that pretty much goes for all of “Machete,” a film that really wants to be seen in a drive-in.