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Machete

Robert Rodriguez funded his first film, El Mariachi, by enduring a series of medical experiments. You wonder what they tested on him, and if it has all yet to slip out of his system.

Machete is a fandango of preposterousness. It’s so mental that Rodriguez, with every film, further inures himself against pastiche. Every single crazy extrapolation from every insane initial idea is taken as far as it will go. He is beyond lampoon. This, at times, makes for gloriously watchable anarchy. An unwanted doorstepper, for example, is despatched by knife-through-head accompanied by a wonderfully emphatic clunk-twang, Leone/Morricone meets Raimi. Danny Trejo, the beyond-iconic hero (in his first lead role!) who looks like a post-bender tramp (you can smell Trejo from your seat – try it) abseiling out of a smashed hospital window on an unfortunate adversary’s intestines. Such depraved invention can only draw admiration. If only the entire film were a sequence of such slapstick travesties.

The problem with Machete – the main one, anyway, and the reason why so many will love it – is its refusal to take anything remotely seriously. Particularly the audience. In the same way that John Waters or Russ Meyer can turn gleeful subscription into twitchy irritation within half an hour, Rodriguez (like Edgar Wright) can overface you with sheer abundant zest and scattershot madness. You can feel his temple-rubbing insouciance override the needs of the film should a scene get beyond the ten-second mark. He’s not working towards the payoff, everything is the payoff and the sooner, the better.

We first meet Trejo as he, in scruff-Bond style, ramraids his way into a rescue situation. He lops a few heads off in classic samurai-set-piece fashion. He procures naked Playboy-esque captive, hoists her over his shoulder and makes for the exit – only to be shot by same Page 3 model, forced to watch his wife’s beheading and left to burn by Steven Seagal.

Fast-forward: Machete is chumping around with other assorted vagrants in a lizard-friendly border town where brazen revolutionary Michelle Rodriguez implacably sells tacos from a beat-up van and turncoat Mexican US immigration agent Jessica Alba prowls for potential uncarded absconders. Enter peevish Jaff Fahey, who leeringly observes Machete’s punchless wad-scrap before acquiring his services for a ‘hit’ on Bush-esque senator Robert DeNiro (who is now just doing the film thing for a laugh and slumming a paycheck). It’s a set-up, though: Fahey is De Niro’s spin doctor – Machete is shot amidst a carefully planned attempt at scapegoating our rogue Mexican mercenary to score heavy anti-immigrant votes as De Niro looks to further dissuade US interlopers by installing a lethal electric fence across the border.

Carnage thereafter: Machete bags Fahey’s wife and daughter (Lindsey Lohan as drugged, undiscerning trash lolling about in a swimming pool – but don’t worry, she ends up a gun-toting nun) and relocates them in brother Cheech Marin’s church – and so on. Don Johnson is quite good as an unscrupulous sack of Mexican-hating shit.

As a fleshed out version of a Grindhouse trailer clocking in at a scandalous 105mins, this could do with a serious purge. For example: lose a few set-pieces and give twenty minutes to Rodriguez’s renegade. Perhaps, in any case, machete should’ve been a half-hour splatter-happy chopfest rolled out around midnight on FX. And yes, the trailer is better.

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