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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Movie Review: "Machete"

Directed By: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis
Starring: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Steven Seagal, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, Jeff Fahey
Four Stars (of Five)

Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin -- is this "The Expendables II?" Nope, this is "Machete," the long-awaited Robert Rodriguez b-movie "Mexploitation" homage starring Trejo as the badass title character, made famous by a (then) fake trailer in "Grindhouse."

Rodriguez is a virtual self-contained film studio. He writes, directs, produces, shoots, edits and even scores his movies on or near his Texas compound, enlisting his kids, cousins and other family in the process. He's amassed an impress fanboy filmography: from the self-financed "El Mariachi" to larger epics like "Once Upon A Time In Mexico," to mainstream crossover fare like the "Spy Kids" franchise, to the pre-3D revival "Shark Boy and Lava Girl" (co-starring a pre-"Twilight" Taylor Lautner).

And of course, "Sin City." As with that movie, he shares a directing credit on "Machete," this time with Ethan Maniquis, his longtime editing partner. Jessica Alba is in this one as well, but aside from a well-positioned shower scene (as a huge fan since "Idle Hands," I'm not complaining!) she leaves the midriff baring vampiness to Michelle Rodriguez (I'm not complaining about that, either).

Longtime "that guy" character actor Trejo finally gets a chance to shine by basically playing an exaggerated version of himself, with all of his lovable ex-con charm on full display. An ex-Federale whose family was murdered by a law enforcement agent turned drug kingpin (Steven Seagal), the legendary Machete (named for his weapon of choice, 'natch) now wanders Texas looking for day laborer work, sans green card. The violence is over the top. And the look is all scratchy and "Grindhouse" -- as in both the genre and the pair of movies Rodriguez made with Quentin Tarantino.

Machete leaps headfirst into a web of intrigue that entangles up a crooked politician (Robert De Niro), his slimy advisor (Jeff Fahey), the slimy advisor's strung out sex addict daughter (Lindsay Lohan), a conflicted ICE agent (Alba), the leader of "The Network" who helps illegal immigrants (Rodriguez), a murderous border control bigot vigilante leader (Don Johnson), hot nurses, buff henchmen, alleyway fight referees and Machete's brother, who is a Catholic priest (Cheech Marin).

I think they brought De Niro in to class the movie up a bit, but he gets his hands dirty and b-movies it up, instead. With a cowboy hat and hit and miss Southern accent, De Niro is doing more than a cameo here. This isn't Bruce Willis in "The Expendables," he's got some screen time. Kudos must be granted to Lohan for playing a character so close to her tabloid persona -- drugs, sex, slimy father and all. She looks great in a nun's habit, even if that clearly isn't her in the nude scenes.

And speaking of looking great... My longtime celebrity crush on Jessica Alba (she's #1) is well-documented. Her post-baby body is outstanding. They have her working out with a Nintendo Wii so we're not shocked with disbelief when she dispenses with thugs in hand to hand combat, but the scene is clearly designed with her fantastic behind in mind more than that foreshadowing.

Alba is less a sexpot in this movie though and more of a legitimate love interest. The ripped to shreds, leather wearing, gun-toting, (spoiler alert) eye-patch sporting superheroine job is left to Michelle Rodriguez as "She," the leader of "The Network." Good grief, does the movie make you want to hang out with her, or what? I mean, she even told me once in an interview that she loves METALLICA and she was wearing the t-shirt to prove it at the "Machete" premiere. *Swoon!

Seagal is clearly overweight and clearly wearing a hair piece. But you know what? He's great with a sword and he was born to recite this b-movie villain dialog, making him the perfect foil for our hero. So Mr. Seagal my hair -- er, hat, is off to you, sir! The opening credits say they are "introducing" Don Johnson, which totally rules. He's great and so his former "Nash Bridges" partner, Marin.

"Machete" dishes out street justice in delightful, hilarious and over-the-top ways with b-movie flair as Machete hacks, shoots and one-liners his way toward a huge confrontation between immigrants and rednecks where he has his final showdown with the drug kingpin at the bottom of the whole mess. The stunts are awesome, the jokes are great and the setups are equally awesome (pay attention when a doctor points out that the human human intestinal tract is very long).

Robert Rodriguez is clearly having a blast when he's making a movie and it always shows onscreen. Not only is "Machete" no exception, it could very well be his Pièce de résistance - or whatever the equivalent phrase might be in Spanish. And while "Machete" is very much "Mexploitation" as advertised, the joke is never on the heroes; it's on everybody else. Sure, there are taco trucks, dishwashers, gardners -- hell, Machete even kills some bad guys with a weed wacker -- but the whole ride feels more like a celebration than exploitation. Fiesta, amigos!

Funky porn music plays each time Machete is about to get the girl -- which is often. Robert Rodriguez noted at the premiere that Trejo has an incredible face that looks like you could go rock-climbing on it. And this movie gives him a chance to do anything and everything you could imagine. He's really milking the chance to star in a movie, making out with Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan in the process. Like I said, "Machete" is a celebration.

The end credits promise, a la James Bond, that Machete will be back. They even tell us the names of both sequels -- "Machete Kills" and, naturally, "Machete Kills Again" -- willfully ensuring that the audience for this thing will force them to make a "Machete" movie once again, just as the fake trailer in "Grindhouse" brought this movie to life.

This hombre would love to see that happen. Viva Machete!

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