Class Warrior: Machete provides a slice of surprisingly effective entertainment – and political commentary.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Remember that crazy-funny fake trailer for the nonexistent ’70s Mexploitation flick Machete that preceded the “Planet Terror” segment of Grindhouse a few years back? Gonzo indie filmmaker Robert Rodriguez whipped up that two-and-a-half-minute bit of ultraviolent fluff, and then he kept whipping, and now it’s a two-hour, crazy-funny-violent Mexploitation feature that couldn’t be more terrifyingly timely. I can’t wait for the right-wing windbags to begin decrying Rodriguez and Machete.
Oh yes, there is revolutionary rage in Machete. Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and the “we’re not racist, honestly” Tea Partiers are right to be afraid that this not-so-silly silly movie may touch a nerve among audiences. And not just among Hispanic moviegoers, either. Yeah, it’s delightful to see so many Hispanic faces onscreen here – I can’t remember the last mainstream movie that featured so many Latinos in all the major good-guy roles, including not one, but miraculously, two women! – but the crafty point is also made that plenty of folks whom Arizona cops wouldn’t be moved to demand papers of are also pissed off about the anti-immigrant, close-the-borders hysteria currently gripping the U.S.
Rodriguez – a Mexican-American who lives and works in Austin and surely has been confronting this bullshit all his life – has smartly made a movie that welcomes anyone angered by injustice and a lack of compassion without having to sacrifice the lovely non-white cast of his, you know, cast.
Well, except: The bad guys are all white (which will surely give Glenn Beck something else to howl about). Even the Mexican bad guy, a notorious psychopathic druglord called Torrez, hilariously played by hilarious white boy Steven Seagal. But the class warfare, as depicted by Rodriguez – as co-director with longtime collaborator (in editing and FX) Ethan Maniquis, and co-screenwriter with Álvaro Rodríguez – isn’t about race or borders, or even about legality; it’s about power and money and heartlessness versus poverty and desperation and humanity.
So here we have former Mexican federale Machete (Danny Trejo), who ran north of the border to escape Torrez’s wrath after the cop dared to try to take the druglord down – and after Torrez killed Machete’s family. Texas is a place where good ol’ boy Stillman (Don Johnson), who fancies himself a lieutenant in a vigilante border-protection scheme, and state Senate candidate McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro, his Texas accent coming and going, as befits the craven carpetbagger opportunist he is) pick off pregnant Mexican women sneaking into Texas in the middle of the night. McLaughlin is running on an “immigrants are cockroaches” platform, but a mysterious white businessman, Booth (Jeff Fahey), needs to ensure that McLaughlin doesn’t win, because Texas thrives on illegal labor and that can’t change.
Whew. Politicians, businessmen, druglords: they’re all the same greedy slime here. Furtively fighting them are Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who operates a taco truck that is also a front for the Network, a sort of Underground Railroad helping illegals set themselves up in the U.S. And there’s Sartana (Jessica Alba), an American ICE agent who goes over to the other side. And Padre (Cheech Marin), a Catholic priest who’s more of an activist of the old school than we usually think of from the Church today. And there’s Machete, of course, who is hired by Booth to assassinate McLaughlin but finds himself in even deeper hot water than he anticipated.
For all the over-the-top bloodshed – Machete really enjoys using his machete, though he’s not averse to surgical blades, automatic weapons, or really anything that will kill racist, power-hungry men in a nasty way – Machete is only half tongue-in-cheek. It’s all very much in the spirit of ’70s blaxploitation films, and fueled by the same anger and yearning for fairness and sympathy. It’s certainly one of the most humanistic movies ever to feature such a high body count. Lots of folks will be interested in talking about Lindsay Lohan’s mostly naked appearance here as Booth’s drug-addicted daughter. I hope at least some of them will also see the cry for justice that Machete is.