Machete originated as a fake trailer included in the 2007 film Grindhouse, a double feature of 70's-style exploitation cinema directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Reaction to the trailer was so strong that Rodriguez decided to inflate the original idea to feature length, with co-directing help from Ethan Maniquis (Tarantino also contributes as a co-producer). At age 66, Rodriguez film regular Danny Trejo gets his first opportunity to headline a movie after making a late foray into the acting business in 1985, following a hard road in life that found him addicted to drugs as a youth and serving several stints in prison for armed robbery and drug-related crimes. He's an unlikely leading man, what with that craggy, stone-faced mug of his, but has a captivating onscreen presence, derived partly from his imposing physical stature that's complemented by long hair and an abundance of tattoos.
Trejo, as the titular character (and get the pronunciation right: it's "Ma-chet-ay"), acquits himself quite well playing a former Mexican federale (cop) who, while down on his luck, takes a job to assassinate a Texas senator (played by Robert De Niro) and gets framed for the act. The man behind the double cross is an oily political operative played by Jeff Fahey, whose appearance in a higher profile project like this immediately elicits a "jeez, where the hell has this guy been?" response. Also included in the oddball cast are Don Johnson as a crooked border patrol officer, Lindsay Lohan as a promiscuous, privileged rich kid with a drug problem (there's a stretch), Cheech Marin as Machete's brother, Jessica Alba as an immigration enforcement official, Michelle Rodriguez as an underground revolutionary figure, and, best of all, a bloated Steven Seagal as a Mexican drug kingpin with a bad accent and even worse hair. He's sporting the most severe widow's peak I've seen this side of The Count from Sesame Street.
Machete revels in its own ridiculousness, never taking itself too seriously, as that intentionally ironic, oddball cast list would imply. De Niro, as the corrupt redneck who fans the flames of immigration intolerance for political gain, chews some heavy scenery while also delivering a bad accent. For this he can be excused, given the cheesy parameters within which he's working. He's still not forgiven for Righteous Kill, though, the 2008 shit sandwich that paired him with Al Pacino. Fahey, rockin' a slicked back half mullet and evil guy goatee, is excellent, as is Rodriguez (Michelle) as the hardbodied rebel who fronts as the proprietor of a taco truck. Alba proves once again that she's just an actress who gets by more on looks than talent - the woman has no screen presence. Even her "nude scene" is half-assed (no pun intended)...that shot of her supposedly naked in the shower is actually just digital trickery. Yes, I know these types of facts matter to you.
The film gets a little lost with an uneven patchwork of subplots supporting the main narrative that revolves around the timely U.S. issue of illegal immigration. But then, you're not watching a movie like this for the deep story and character arcs, are you? Horrifyingly funny violence, like that hilarious intestinal escape stunt, and gratuitous nudity, wrapped in a 70's B-movie package are what you get with Machete. Think Shoot 'Em Up or something from the Crank series, but with a lot more heart and satisfying results.