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Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

ROBERT Rodriguez’s Machete began life as a trailer that was used to bridge the gap between the ill-fated [and under-rated] collaboration between himself and Quentin Tarantino that was 2007’s Grindhouse. In many ways, it works better in that format.

Stretched to full length, Machete lacks the sharpness necessary to justify the decision to extend the trailer to movie format, even though it does manage to deliver the odd moment of fun.

True to Grindhouse form (and Rodriguez’s own Planet Terror section), Machete positively wallows in its ‘70s exploitation values, whether it’s the cheesy dialogue, grainy film stock or excessive violence. It’s almost knowingly bad… and yet Rodriguez still struggles to hold our interest.

Co-written with his cousin, Alvaro Rodriguez, the film opens with a bloody epilogue in which Danny Trejo’s Mexican Federale disobeys orders to mount a rescue operation that could see him also catch drugs kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal). In the ensuing battle, however, Machete finds himself double crossed and forced to watch his own wife slain, while being left for dead.

The movie then jumps forward three years as Machete (now an Austin city labourer) is hired by shady businessman Booth (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate a right wing Texas senator (Robert De Niro), who is fighting to tighten US immigration policy (with an automatic rifle if necessary).

Alas, the plot is another set-up for Machete, who is subsequently forced to go on the run once again and team up with an underground revolutionary (Michelle Rodriguez), a sympathetic immigration agent (Jessica Alba) and a shotgun wielding priest (Cheech Marin) to clear his name and prevent a plot to install an electric fence across the Tex-Mex border.

The ensuing trail of revenge leads Machete back to Torrez as well as a bigoted sheriff (Don Johnson) who employs a similarly ruthless approach to border control.

Given its cast and various ingredients Machete should have been a lot more fun than it is. But Rodriguez seems to get lost somewhere in between the various machinations of his overly complex plot and the need to top each action sequence with ever more OTT excess.

The ensuing film isn’t without its guilty pleasures, but becomes too bogged down in unnecessary padding and over elaborate action sequences that promise more than they ultimately deliver.

As a result, the performances are similarly uneven. Trejo is great value whenever on-screen but sometimes gets lost in his own movie, while De Niro and Seagal are both under-employed and Alba given too much to do.

Fahey and Johnson are clearly having fun and revel in rare big screen opportunities but – again – they’re never afforded the opportunity to really flesh out two of the more interesting characters (admittedly, part of the point), which tends to render the complexity of proceedings unnecessary.

In terms of action, the film also falters when it should soar. Some sequences are great fun, such as those involving Marin’s shotgun wielding priest (a blast) and Michelle Rodriguez’s eye-patch wearing renegade, but others are either overdone (a sequence involving an unlikely use for an intestine) or not long enough (the long-awaited confrontation between Trejo and Seagal).

In the end, Machete falls victim to its own conflicted values… under-employing a top drawer cast, overdoing the plot machinations and never quite finding the right mix of schlock and humour in the action sequences. It’s a grindhouse production that sadly feels too much of a grind.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 106mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: March 28, 2011