Film >Hacked up
Of all the “Look at me!” bids for attention that director Robert Rodriguez hurls at his audience like a hyperactive middle schooler in Machete, the latest in a series of increasingly cheap, film-school hack jobs from the formerly formidable auteur, the one that grabbed me – OK, maybe one of two, but we’ll get to that – was, of all things, a plate of food. If he has nothing else going for him these days (and he may actually have nothing else going for him these days), Rodriguez makes a mean dish. In fact, the “10-minute cooking school” segments on many of his films’ DVDs featuring Rodriguez and his family at home in their kitchen making a dish seen in or inspired by his films, remain the only reason to ever rent one of his insipid outings such as Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
The dish is a doozy; some heavenly mixture of scrambled eggs, chili peppers and perhaps rice or potatoes, accented by a beautiful jalapeńo on the edge of the plate, prepared and served to hitman-on-the-run Machete (Danny Trejo) by an immigration officer played by the perfectly wooden Jessica Alba. The other 104 minutes of the film, save for a few beautiful seconds involving a man’s entrails being used as a means of escape, cannot compare to that plate of food in terms of execution, aesthetic appeal or even narrative cohesion. Yes, the eggs make more sense as a thing that exists than Machete.
Since I have to go into it, let’s say that Trejo plays a man wronged, set up for attempted murder by the forces behind an immigrant-hating senator played by Robert DeNiro. Alba’s enforcement agent wants to help clear his name, but not before Machete and “the network” of pissed-off Mexicans go to war against DeNiro and an evil puppetmaster of sorts played by Steven Seagal. Rodriguez created this thing because people really enjoyed and chuckled at its fake trailer during the director’s 2007 failed Grindhouse experiment. Like the overgrown child he is, Rodriguez took this mild approval about 20 million steps too far, stretching the trailer’s joyfully schlocky action over the course of one boring, utterly pointless fake movie. (Except the entrails … and the food.)
If there were any sense of fun to Machete, it could be chalked up as a so-bad-it’s-good stoner romp, but Rodriguez miscalculates his audience’s desires at every turn, flogging the material thoroughly until it’s as ugly and unpleasant as a movie can be. Does he actually expect us to applaud the return of Seagal, one of the more vile creatures to ever step foot in Hollywood? (And that’s really saying something.) Or guffaw at the presence of Lindsay Lohan as a drugged-out piece of meat for Machete to revenge-fuck? When did Rodriguez morph into Nancy Grace?
Rodriguez doesn’t even have the courage to take credit for his misguided convictions. He’s listed as “co-director” with his longtime Troublemaker Studios crewmember Ethan Maniquis, and “co-writer” with his own cousin, Alvaro. Nice try, Robert, but the blame rests solely on your shoulders. Now take your tongue out of your cheek and make a real movie again.