M is for… Machete
Somehow I missed Robert Rodriguez’s Machete in theaters, even though I love Rodriguez’s directing. My favorite movie as a teenager was From Dusk Till Dawn; I loved the writing, the direction, and George Clooney looking extremely hot with the tattoo crawling up his arm. From Dusk Till Dawn was my first introduction to Danny Trejo, who stars in Machete as Machete. He only has a couple lines in From Dusk Till Dawn, yet like so many others they’re somehow memorable: “This bar is for bikers and truckers only. You… get out!” “Best food in Mexico.” There are, of course, a couple other familiar faces from From Dusk Till Dawn in Machete.
Anyway, Machete is introduced as a Federale, and he ultimately watches his wife get killed by drug lord Torrez (Steven Segal), and learns he was double-crossed by his chief. Cut to three years later and Machete is an illegal immigrant in Texas doing day labor. He gets accosted by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) who wants him to kill Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), because of McLaughlin’s hardline attitude about Mexican immigrants. Machete prepares to shoot him, but Booth’s henchman sniper shoots McLaughlin in the leg and Machete in the shoulder, leading to Machete being chased through the streets. It turns out Booth is one of McLaughlin’s aids, and is going to use the assassination attempt to boost McLaughlin’s ratings and ensure his reelection.
Introduced concurrently is the mysterious Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who runs a taco stand and may or may not be the vigilante Shé, who runs a Network that helps immigrants cross the border and get jobs. Luz is being watched closely by immigration officer Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba), who also watches the day laborers and other suspected illegal immigrants.
Fortunately for Machete, he winds up at a hospital run by the Network, and though the henchman sniper guy (Shea Whigham) finds him, Machete is able to kill or maim all of the thugs with him. Machete is eventually able to get to Luz’s home, where he’s able to hide out for a while.
Also on the side of Booth and McLaughlin is Von (Don Johnson), a “vigilante” who shoots immigrants as they try to cross the border. Ultimately it’s discovered that even Torrez wants the border shut down, so he can charge more for the drugs he brings across.
Sartana is able to pull up Machete’s federal file and learns he was double-crossed, and therefore winds up protecting him and working with him, rather than taking him to immigration. She even turns her back to evidence of the Network, and the inevitable confirmation that Luz is really Shé. Meanwhile Machete goes to his brother, Padre (Cheech Marin) and enlists his help. Of course he also ignores him when he’s ordered to stay away, and brings Booth’s daughter April (Lindsay Lohan) and wife June (Alicia Marek) to the church.
Meanwhile Booth hires a hitman, Osiris Amanpour (Tom Savini), who tracks Machete to Padre and kills Padre with Booth’s help, only further enraging Machete. Luz’s home is blown up by the sniper henchman, but she escapes only to be shot by Von.
The film culminates with Machete and his team of Sartana and the Network—and eventually Shé, who was saved by the Network’s doctor –against Torrez, Von, and Texan citizens. McLaughlin, not wanting to side with Von and his men because they betray him, joins Machete’s team against Torrez. April also joins in to avenge her father, who was killed by McLaughlin.
The film ends with Machete staging a revolution, and afterwards he and Sartana ride off into the sunset, so to speak.
There are actually a lot of characters and variations of the same storyline (Machete versus Luz versus McLaughlin versus Torrez), so while that plot summary seems a little thin and confusing, I think jumping right into the criteria will be best.
So here we go…
A is for… Accents
A few characters have Spanish accents, which is to be expected in a film that features Mexican immigrants so heavily.
What is fascinating though is that for the first time I can recall, Robert De Niro doesn’t have his typical New York Robert De Niro accent. It was really interesting to hear him speak with what I always view as a “George Bush” accent, which is really a Texan accent. Perhaps he was channeling Bush to nail the part.
What’s really funny is that the accent slips later on, as McLaughlin says, “I can’t walk out of here like a fucking piñata waiting to get whacked.” It’s eventually revealed he isn’t even Texan and the accent is an affectation, as he laments, “I hate Texas. I hate the heat.”
B is for… Bad Guys
There are a lot of bad guys in Machete.
First up is Torrez, who explains to Machete that he owns the DEA and the Marshals, and doesn’t understand why Machete won’t succumb to bribes. Ultimately he wants to get the US/Mexico border shut down so he can raise prices on his drugs. He kills Machete’s wife right in front of him, and threatens his daughter (though if Machete is wandering around aimlessly, likely Torrez did kill his daughter).
Von shoots a pregnant immigrant, and clearly has zero tolerance for immigrants. Even when the pregnancy is pointed out, he explains he can’t let the baby be born in American and given the same rights as all American citizens. He shoots Luz in the eye. He’s described as a vigilante and it’s explained he’s financed by McLaughlin, but then he turns on him after.
Senator McLaughlin is a conservative Texan senator whose sole platform seems to be keeping immigrants out of Texas and building an electrified border fence. He’s first seen with Von, shooting immigrants as they cross the border. His campaign is being funded Torrez and his Mexican drug money. He shoots Booth twice in the chest and after he’s betrayed by Von he fights with Machete.
Booth is McLaughlin’s aid, and it should be obvious from the beginning that he’s a bad guy because of his slicked-back hair. He does confessionals at Padre’s church, and Padre explains Booth has impure thoughts about his daughter and is connected to the cartel. His businesses are a front for the drug trade. He engineers the assassination attempt on McLaughlin without explaining it to him first, and is the one to hire Osiris to kill Machete and Padre.
The henchman sniper at first seems to be merely Booth’s righthand man, but is really a sniper. He is killed for not killing Machete.
Osiris Amanpour is a hitman for hire (call 1-800-HITMAN). He literally crucifies Padre, and is not seen again after Booth says Machete is after them.
C is for… Chases
Not too many chases and they’re all on foot:
Machete gets chased through the building after the assassination attempt, and then through the hospital. He’s able to get away by swinging on a guy’s intestines.
D is for… Damsels
Agent Sartana Rivera is an immigration officer, specifically a special agent in charge of investigations after having worked her way up from taking out the trash. She’s first seen scoping out the day laborers and Luz’s taco truck. She’s apparently been borderline harassing Luz regarding her citizenship. She’s seen training for kickboxing using the Wii. After spending time with Machete, and learning about the human side of illegal immigration and the corruption resulting in his wife’s death, she turns a blind eye on Luz and her garage command center for the Network. She also starts developing feelings for Machete. She rallies the day laborers to join Machete by giving a speech ending with, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!” Overall Sartana is smart and capable and doesn’t get kidnapped, so she’s a good person for Machete to have around.
Luz runs a taco truck for the day laborers, and shows compassion when she lets Machete take food he can’t pay for, either believing he’ll pay her later or not caring if he doesn’t. She explains to Sartana that she wanted to help people, and grew into fighting the immigration war. She knows the legend of Machete, and has been stockpiling weapons for the Network for when the time for all-out fighting comes. She is also smart and capable and deadly, even while missing an eye during the final melee.
April is Booth’s daughter, and is a drugged out oversexed aspiring model. She makes pornographic videos with her mother and a man and posts them online. After she learns of her father’s death she has some sort of awakening as she dons a habit (she’s naked in Padre’s church) and shoots McLaughlin in the chest.
E is for… Explosions
A light film for explosives, with only a police car Machete crashes exploding, a bomb being detonated in Luz’s home, and some sort of explosion that launches Machete’s motorcycle into the air.
F is for… Flashbacks
No flashbacks in Machete.
G is for… Guns
Check out a full listing here at the IMFDB.
The opening scene has three guys with machine guns firing at Machete’s car.
Machete’s primary weapon is obviously the machete; he even chooses it over a long-handled revolver and is quick enough on the draw to decapitate three guys before they can shoot at him. Throughout the film he seems to enjoy the versatility of both slicing people and stabbing them.
Torrez’s men have a flamethrower, which I bring up because not a lot of movies seem to have flamethrowers, even though they seem to be quite useful.
Von and McLaughlin enjoy firing rifles at immigrants.
It looks like Booth has an entire armory as he gives Machete a high-powered rifle with which to kill the senator. Machete of course chooses the machete for “backup.”
Booth goes to rescue April and kills everyone with a silenced handgun.
Machete is an excellent shot; he has a guy in a headlock and a pistol in one hand, and shoots three guys in the knee with three separate shots, all while the gun is actually in the other guy’s hand.
The cops have short-barreled rifles, but then it’s revealed they aren’t actually cops.
Osiris and Padre have huge guns for their standoff, though Padre’s are shotguns and Osiris’s are machine guns. Osiris still manages to not hit Padre, while Padre is able to kill two of Osiris’s men by shooting blindly behind a column.
There are, of course, various other guns used throughout the film, but the final epic climactic battle takes place between Machete and Torrez as Machete brandishes his machete and Torrez brandishes what appear to be samurai swords.
Sartana seems to have a flask shaped like a handgun.
H is for… Helicopters
Sadly, there are no helicopters in Machete. This is very disappointing.
I is for… Improvisation
Machete uses a mop handle as a weapon as he comes out of the elevator after the shooting of the senator.
As the henchman sniper is closing in on him at the hospital, Machete takes the belt from a nurse’s uniform and ties a ring of scalpels to it. He also uses an oxygen tank to propel the gurney on which he’s hiding.
After learning a person’s intestines are ten times the length of the human body, Machete slices a man open and uses his intestines to catch his fall after he jumps through a window. The intestines also allow him to swing onto the floor below.
Machete uses a weed whacker to force a henchman to keep his distance, then turns it around and uses it as a club.
Sartana impales a thug with an obelisk, then uses her high heeled shoes to both defend herself and stab a thug through the eye.
Machete again uses the weed whacker to gain the thugs’ attention, and then uses a nail gun to nail a thug’s hand to the wall. In the same scene he also uses hedge clippers to intimidate a thug, though doesn’t give in to the urge to chop his head off, regardless of the clippers straddling his neck.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
Machete throws himself out of a window at the hospital, and swings through the window on the floor beneath that one.
At Sartana’s place one thug bursts through a glass door, and another falls through a window after being shot.
K is for… Kill Count
The question almost becomes who doesn’t Machete kill, because he kills a lot of thugs in a lot of creative ways.
He stabs the fake cop through the seat of the police cruiser, and steers the vehicle by turning the machete.
At Luz’s house he machetes another thug through his skull, stabs a thug in the eye with a corkscrew, and jams a meat thermometer into another thug’s neck. He also grabs a cleaver to do something.
Machete kills an unknown amount of people during the climactic battle.
L is for… Limitations
Machete becomes part of a huge conspiracy regarding the shutting down of the border, totally against his will and while constantly being chased. He has no aid other than Luz, whom he thinks is dead, and Sartana, who should really be turning him over to the authorities.
Machete is also illegal, so he can’t just go get help and can’t expect it, until the Network gets called in.
M is for… Motivation
The film opens with Torrez killing Machete’s wife and implying he killed his daughter, which is of course all Machete needs to want revenge.
It’s explained that “Torrez wants to get Senator McLaughlin reelected so that he can build a border fence that he can control.” This secure border will limit supply and drive up prices. So, clearly, Torrez is in it for the money, McLaughlin for the money, Von likely for money and/or hatred of immigrants, and Booth because McLaughlin being in office means he still has a job, and because he’s such a big part of the drug trade.
Machete wants to end the bad guys because they’ll keep trying to kill him, and because of the way he was double-crossed three years prior. It’s unclear what his opinion is on illegal immigration.
N is for… Negotiation
Booth offers Machete $150,000 to kill McLaughlin, but then he says that Machete needs to do it or he’ll make “something” happen to him.
Sartana offers Machete papers if he lets her bring him in.
McLaughlin has to choose between fighting Von and being killed by Luz.
O is for… One Liners
Machete’s Partner: I’m with you, Boss.
Machete, holding up his machete: This is the boss.
Torrez: Which the fuck is it, puñeta? Dead or dying?
Doctor: If he hadn’t been shot before, he’d be dead now.
Sartana: Jesus Christ, Machete. You’re a walking shit-magnet.
Machete: Sounds like you’re still taking out the trash.
Torrez: Notoriously hard to kill. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Sartana: Why should I trust you?
Machete: Because we’re both cops.
Thug: You ever notice how you let a Mexican into your home just because he’s got gardening tools? No questions asked, you just let him right in. He could have a chainsaw or machete…
June: If your father ever saw me doing this…
April: Mom, everyone is gonna see you do this. It’s the Internet.
Padre, about April and June unconscious in the back of his hearse: I’ll make good use of them. The church can always use good people.
Machete: Machete don’t text. But Machete gets evidence.
Von, after Billy vomits a second time after Von kills someone: You’re gonna have to get better at this, Billy.
Padre: God has mercy. I don’t.
Booth: Blood of Christ. Tastes like Merlot to me.
Sartana: I thought Machete didn’t text.
Machete: Machete improvises.
Thug, after Machete threatens him with a weed whacker: I quit! (he also hands over his gun)
Sartana’s boss: Let me see if I hear this right. One of this city’s most prominent businessmen, a Texas vigilante, the most notorious drug kingpin of Mexico, and a state senator are all conspiring to enact stricter immigration laws?
Sartana: There’s the law, and there’s what’s right. I’m gonna do what’s right.
Booth: You forgot your cane, sir. Milk it.
Machete: Why would I want to be a person, when I’m already a myth?
P is for… Profession
Machete is a federal marshal in Mexico. He’s depicted defying orders and he doesn’t take bribes, or at least not from Torrez. When offered $500 to fight, he doesn’t even put down his burrito as he gets the other guy to break his arm. He knows of the Network that helps immigrants get across the border. He gives the money Booth gave him to Luz.
Torrez says Machete is notoriously hard to kill, which isn’t a wonder considering how well he can improvise and how skilled he is with both firearms and his machete.
He somehow isn’t recognized as being a federale until after Booth picks him up and he’s caught on camera in the fake assassination attempt. Considering his distinct face and tattoos, you’d think Torrez or law enforcement would recognize him.
Q is for… Quagmire
There really isn’t ever a sense of huge impending danger for Machete, resulting from a combination of Machete being depicted as unstoppable, and also the violence being so cartoony. Yes people are killed horribly and Machete is in grave danger, but the kills are played for laughs so the danger seems minimized.
R is for… Reality
I don’t know enough about immigration politics or Texan politics to comment on the story parts.
Maybe someone is that good with a machete, or in the case of Padre the blind gun shots.
Truly the excess blood makes it hard to believe the film was anything other than pure entertainment; through the cartoony violence there didn’t seem to be any real-world issues at stake, though obviously immigration policy is a hot-button issue for many people.
S is for Sidekicks
Sartana and Shé are obviously Machete’s sidekicks. Though Sartana initially wants to cut down on illegal immigration, she eventually sides with her opposite, Shé, as both of them help Machete fight McLaughlin and Booth.
Padre is a blasphemous priest, and it’s unclear whether he’s Machete’s actual brother or some sort of metaphorical brother. When he finds out how much trouble Machete is in, he throws him out and tells him not to come back because he’s afraid for himself. Machete does return with April and June, who are passed out in Padre’s hearse (part of his side business). Booth has been coming to Padre for confessional, and Padre has been recording the sessions, which are used to expose Booth and McLaughlin as being crooked. He is extremely adept with shotguns, but Osiris and Booth are ultimately able to crucify him and kill him.
T is for… Technology
Sartana uses face recognition software to identify Machete.
Torrez and Booth video chat.
U is for… Unexpected Romance
Machete and Luz kind of goad each other on, and during a kiss the scene fades to black. There’s no evidence if anything sexual happened.
Machete makes a pornographic video with April and June to get revenge on Booth. Both women only seem more turned on that this rough looking stranger shows up to be in their video.
He and Sartana lay down on her bed together, and there’s another fade to black. When she wakes up she seems relieved to be clothed and untouched.
The film ends with Sartana giving Machete legal papers and making out with him on his motorcycle, as he manages to drive it with her in his lap.
At least Sartana is a strong character and the relationship was somewhat hinted at during the film; it didn’t just come out of nowhere at the end, and it wasn’t drawn out or obnoxious.
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
In the opening scene Machete uses his car to break through the door.
Machete pulls up the emergency brake on Sartana’s car to cause it to swing around, distracting her enough that he can grab her gun.
The end cavalry of the Network’s crew travels by modified car. One of them has rocket launchers attached to the hood. Another bounces up and crushes someone under the tire when it lands. Machete also attaches a Gatling gun to his motorcycle.
A truck is used to plow through the wall of the cell holding McLaughlin.
W is for… Winning
Obviously everyone but Booth is involved in the final climactic battle.
McLaughlin shoots Booth twice in the chest in his limo.
April shoots McLaughlin in the chest, but he’s later revealed to be wearing a bulletproof vest. He’s able to get up and escape, only to electrify himself on a border fence and get shot by Von’s henchman Billy.
Shé shoots Von.
Machete stabs Torrez with his machete, and Torrez then commits hara-kiri.
X is for… X-rays, or Maybe You Should See A Doctor
Machete gets shot in the shoulder by the sniper henchman, and is actually brought into the hospital. He heals well enough to fight, or doesn’t care that he’s in pain. He seems fine during the rest of the film, though this is possibly attributable to the egg Luz cracks under the bed as he sleeps.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem
Other than Torrez and Machete not killing each other earlier, there isn’t a history to drive the story or provide material for flashbacks.
Z is for… Zone, In The
During the climax, Machete wields his machete as if it’s an extension of himself, slaughtering countless opponents. Same thing at Luz’s house; Machete disposes of thugs with improvised weapons in close quarters as if he were born for it.
To sum up, Machete is a heck of a lot of fun. There are a lot of characters to enjoy and enjoy hating, and the film brings attention to an important political issue. The deaths are over the top and blood splatters absolutely everywhere, but that’s what makes it fun. There’s more than enough action and humor for everyone, with a cast that really works well together to bring their characters to life.
A few more points I want to make:
The opening scene of Machete’s partner and wife and meeting with Torrez has a sort of “film look” filter over it, which seems characteristic for Rodriguez throwing it to the Grindhouse themes.
Likewise, the film is deliciously Rodriguez-esque violent, even with the co-director (Ethan Maniquis, long-time editing partner of Rodriguez). It would likely be possible to randomly channel surf into Machete and pin it as a Rodriguez film.
The film takes place three years after the opening scene, which is a long time for Machete to be wandering aimlessly as a day laborer. What happened during those three years, and why wasn’t he able to cross the border legally?
The film was a good chance for me to practice the Spanish lessons I’ve recently started. Maybe it’s silly to understand that Padre is Machete’s hermano and that the salsa for Luz’s tacos comes in red and green, but I will enjoy my small victories.
Hilariously, “Machete” is Machete’s birth name. Not sure what his parents were thinking.
The film of course has one of Rodriguez’s signature themes: a Mexican standoff. This time more literally than others, as Machete and the Network line up outside Von’s headquarters.
I give Machete two thumbs up for sheer entertainment and not succumbing to some of the problems with other movies, such as being too long and trying to do too much when really a simple story with some twists proves more satisfying. I’m looking forward to the sequel, Machete Kills.