Robert Rodriguez, sharing directing duties with longtime editing assistant Ethan Maniquis, expands the mock-trailer from Grindhouse about an ex-Federale (Danny Trejo) taking on corruption all over the place into a mash-up of what, in the hands of his buddy Quentin Tarantino, would have been epic proportions. But Rodriguez lacks the focus to bring his large-scale vision to inglorious life.
Sin City, likely one of Rodriguez's best efforts, mimicked some of Tarantino’s pulpy lunatic fiction, but that was surely thanks to having narrative assistance from Frank Miller. Here Rodriguez is working without that safety net, so there’s pulp everywhere and not much else.
But Machete does provide Trejo with a canvas rougher than his craggy mug, and it comes close to making him a rugged, border-crossing sex symbol. He plays each and every scene as straight as can be, allowing the other performers, like Steven Seagal, Jeff Fahey, Lindsey Lohan and Robert De Niro, to gag on the chunky chewy bits they bite off and fail to swallow.
Even when Tarantino wallows in his over-exploitated mind, he makes us believe that every line and frame means something. But Rodriguez strips the story, and even his political nods to illegal immigration look past the naked truth, removing the power of the ideas. His Machete turns out to be a blade that at some point might have had a sharp edge, but now it's little more than a blunt instrument to which the audience might find themselves impervious. Grade: D-plus
Opens Sept. 3. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.