Back in 2007, maverick moviemakers Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaborated on a project known as Grindhouse: a balls-to-the-wall homage to the absurdly-wonderful exploitation flicks that dominated the drive-ins and inner-city movie theaters (or “grindhouses,” to you laymen) in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The film was without a doubt my favorite moving picture of the year; it took devoted exploitation movie lovers back to a time wherein sleaze audiences were subjected to some of the finest “bad” movies (and some really, really bad ones) ever created. From that moment on, I began to suspect that nothing could ever truly top the onscreen debauchery that Tarantino and Rodriguez had fashioned from their undying love for the lost art of “grindhouse” cinema.
And then, in 2010, Robert Rodriguez succeeded his filmmaking partner, Tarantino, by bringing us Machete — and the world of “grindhouse” cinema once more reared its head to unsuspecting moviegoers. Originally, Machete started out as a joke: a faux trailer for the then-non-existent film appeared as a precursor to Rodriguez’ Grindhouse entry, Planet Terror. Due to soaring popularity of the phony preview, though, the Texan auteur said “What the hell?” and proceeded to turn the fake movie advert into a film of its own.
Reprising his role from the Grindhouse trailer, Danny Trejo — an actor who normally plays heavies — takes the lead as the “good guy” (or anti-hero, as it were) as Machete Cortez, a Mexican laborer in Texas who gets hired by a corrupt State official (Jeff Fahey, who also appeared in the original trailer) to assassinate a very George W-ish senator (Robert DeNiro, proving that there is life after starring alongside of Ben Stiller). The setup is a trap, however — and Machete becomes the fall guy for a Conservative scheme to keep illegal immigrants out of the United States. What the senator and his aide fail to realize, though, is that Machete is an ex-Federale — and that they “just fucked with the wrong Mexican.”
With its over-the-top violence (in one memorable moment, our anti-hero rips open a bad guy’s stomach and uses the poor sod’s intestines to repel from one story of a hospital to another), a truly surreal style of filmmaking, and a bloody-good sense of demented black humor, Machete succeeded in doing what Grindhouse had done three years earlier: it knowingly threw all ideas of “conventional” filmmaking out the window and just decided to have fun with itself — all the while paying the utmost respect to the crazy exploitation flicks that helped to inspire it.
And, if the mere fact that Rodriguez (with a little help from co-director Ethan Maniquis) has managed to outdo Tarantino with this exceedingly-sensational tribute to sleaze isn’t enough to sell you (hey, I loved Inglourious Basterds, too — but this is simply more my style), how ‘bout Rodriguez’ keen method of tongue-in-cheek casting? Does the thought of seeing former action star Steven Seagal — in his best performance to date — as the ruthless sword-swingin’ Mexican drug lord that killed Machete’s family tempt you? Well, then, what about Cheech Marin (also reprising his role from the original Grindhouse trailer) as Machete’s priest brother: a man of God who is perfectly content with helping his brother when it comes to ridding the world of a few political slimeballs (needless to say, the movie came under fire by Conservatives and religious zealots everywhere — which is all the more reason to hail it as a masterpiece)?
What? That’s still not enough? OK, toss in a few desperate heroines (Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsey Lohan), make-up guru Tom Savini as an assassin, and Don Johnson (in his “debut” — a reference to the opening credits, which jokingly read “Introducing Don Johnson), and you have what was ultimately the best film of 2010, hands down!