Machete, played by Danny Trejo, is a Mexican federale who gets double-crossed in the film's opening by a prostitute that he's trying to save from a drug kingpin Torrez, played by Steven Seagal. The opening is entirely over the top: Machete decapitates several bad guys in order to save the girl, who is nude and calls in Seagal with a cell phone she had hidden in her pussy. Yep, it's that kind of movie! Seagal decapitates Machete's wife and burns the place, leaving him for dead.
But he's not dead. Instead, he arrives in Texas, an illegal alien looking for work. The rest of the film addresses the illegal immigration debate and all sides involved, from corrupt politicians to redneck vigilantes to Mexican drug cartels- all of them want to kill Machete and are, in turn, killed by Machete. Some have found the political subtext jarring, but trust me, there were plenty of political grindhouse flicks. The problem is that Robert Rodriguez generally makes stupid movies, and God bless him. His movies are entertaining, but they're also usually really dopey, and here his politics never get more complex than lines like, "We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us!" Come again?
Rodriguez thinks he's making a movie about the immigrant proletariat rising up against capitalist oppression, but look, he just lacks the sort of class analysis that could make that idea work. Instead, the message goes nowhere and we're left trying to keep all of the characters straight. A second problem is there are way too many characters. The seeming message of the film is: "There are tons of corrupt people who need to be cut down for exploiting illegal aliens. Now, check out these naked girls!" It makes your head spin. I'm fine with the level of political subtext here, but wish Rodriguez actually had a coherent message. Or a coherent style for that matter- is this thing supposed to play as a parody or a rip-roaring action flick? Should we take any of it seriously?
Maybe not. Taken as a lark, it's much easier to enjoy the multiple explosions, random nudity, disembowelments, decapitations, gunfights, slutty nurses, and gore. And, the overall tone is so campy and exaggerated that I could see this being a fun movie to watch over beers with friends. The last half-hour, in which the illegal day laborers rise up in lowrider chariots to do battle with the Minutemen, is especially entertaining. Don't get me wrong- this is a fun movie. Just don't think too hard about it.