Introducing Don Johnson

A few years back, Robert Rodriguez directed a hilarious trailer advertising an imaginary exploitation film featuring Danny Trejo as a grizzled Mexican action hero who “gets the women and kills the bad guys.”  In proper step with films of the type, the trailer gave away virtually everything that happened in the movie.

With one thing and another, that trailer is now a full-length film.  Danny Trejo, 66 years old, plays the title character: a Mexican ex-federale with a penchant for sharp objects and various vendettas which develop over the course of the story.

Rodriguez delivers on the  promise of the trailer.  Some of the scenes were re-shot, some actors recast and some sections removed in order to tell the full story, but the spirit is there.  The premise is absurd and the illegal immigrant laws being the main driving force behind the narrative is a simple-yet-effective red herring for the wanton violence that accompanies it.

While Stallone’s The Expendables had one of the most impressive action casts we’ve seen, Machete has possibly the single weirdest cast in film history.  Oddly enough, the players fit into their parts perfectly, and the ensemble is spread thinly enough over the screenplay that it doesn’t seem like just a bunch of cool actors hanging out together in a Rodriguez movie.  The cast includes Trejo in the lead, as well as Robert De Niro as Senator McLaughlin, a politician with a cowboy hat and a fake Southern accent who seems to be vehemently against illegal immigrants (“terrorists” as he calls them); Jeff Fahey as Michael Booth, the Senator’s adviser and the main conspirator that gets Machete’s revenge mission going; Cheech Marin as Padre’, Machete’s brother, a shotgun-wielding priest; Michelle Rodriguez as Luz, the leader of an underground movement of Mexican renegades fighting for what is right; Jessica Alba as Sartana, a half-Mexican immigrations officer debating whose side she should be on; the immortal Don Johnson as Von Jackson, the evil leader of a group of “border vigilantes” (good-ol’-boys who gun down any Mexicans crossing the border); Lindsay Lohan as April, Booth’s daughter, a socialite who later becomes a “nun with a gun” to exact her revenge on De Niro; Tom Savini as Osiris Amanpour, a hitman who advertises his services via 1-800-HITMAN; and perhaps most significant of all, Steven Seagal in his first big-screen appearance in ten years – he plays Torrez, a Mexican drug lord who serves as the film’s central villain.  Not only is he on the screen again, but he’s a bad guy, and not only is he a bad guy, but he’s battling a heroic Danny Trejo, who would surely be a throwaway henchman in any of Seagal’s career-vehicle films.

Refreshingly, Rodriguez takes many of these actors out of their usual element: De Niro as a conservative political animal, the lovable Fahey as a monstrous conspirator, Seagal and Johnson as baddies, and so on.  There are also several references to Rodriguez’s older films, specifically in the latter third of the film when Trejo dons the same outfit he wears in 1995’s Desperado, including the infamous throwing knives, as well as a shot in which Trejo leaps atop a limousine to slay the people inside.

The film begins to border parody after awhile, and the shootout in the end has a bit more potential (and buildup) than is delivered, but Rodriguez is a bit more responsible with his writing – he still can’t name characters well and he still occasionally kills off characters immediately when they’re not needed in the plot, but he’s getting better.  Overall, the film is extremely enjoyable and for the most part stays within the conventions of the genre.  Trejo, 66, with lines in his face as deep as any open-ocean trench, hooks up with all three of the film’s leading women on separate occasions (and once, two at a time when April’s mother is involved).  There are one-liners galore which I won’t spoil here, and while there is a solid ending, there’s the inevitable cash-in sequel hook – “Machete will return in MACHETE KILLS…and again, in MACHETE KILLS AGAIN!” – though I assume Rodriguez won’t actually be making those pictures.

Confusion came to me in the form of a fake trailer by Quentin Tarantino entitled “Agent Orange.”  The confusion occurred because the trailer wasn’t there, despite its hype, and there seems to be no information left about it on the entirety of the internet.  I’m willing to believe it was just a rumor, but it seemed almost too specific in its cast and premise to be completely made up.  Regardless, this takes nothing away from the movie.  Get out to see it.

Machete (2010); written and directed by Robert Rodriguez; starring Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez and Jeff Fahey.