Andy Bockelman: ‘Machete’ hacks away at topical material

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

Movie at a glance

“Machete,” 3 out of 4 stars; 105 minutes; Starring: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez.

Someone once said, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.”

While that’s a nice pearl of wisdom about non-violence, much can be gleaned from getting one’s hands bloody, too.

And, if the B-movie material in “Machete” teaches us anything, it’s that even decapitations can have a moral side to them.

The name “Machete” used to be feared south of the border, but now the man (Danny Trejo) who was a revered Mexican Federale is but a whisper of his former self. Instead of fighting druglords, he’s working as a day laborer on the Texas-Mexico line, trying to stay under the radar.

When businessman Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) offers him a briefcase full of cash to kill an outspoken senator (Robert De Niro), he’s not interested in asking questions — until he almost gets killed himself in the assassination attempt.

With a new uproar of anti-immigration rhetoric sweeping the land, Machete finds himself partnering with an INS agent (Jessica Alba) and a taco vendor/rebel leader (Michelle Rodriguez) to get the people of America to realize that the men who represent them are no better than the aliens they believe to be heartless murderers.

With his greasy hair, craggy face and tattoo canvas body, Trejo looks every bit the hard-boiled freedom fighter known only as Machete.

Judging by the way he handles the rusty weapons, the nickname is well-earned as he slices through the body parts of his enemies like so much butter.

You’ve got to admit, it’s not every man who can use his victim’s intestines as a rappelling rope.

Alba is given too much of a cute role as Santana Rivera, an immigrations officer who unexpectedly finds more corruption coming from the U.S. rather than Mexico, though her cardio warm-up can come in handy when she has to fend off an attacker while using a pair of stiletto heels.

Cheech Marin is also laudable as Machete’s brother, a priest with an itchy trigger finger and a mouth like a construction worker.

Rodriguez is better, still, as Luz, a roach coach owner who doubles as the one-eyed revolutionary Shé, dedicated to stopping American interests from exploiting Mexican workers.

It’s easy to see why, with forces like Sen. McLaughlin, for which De Niro trots out his best Ross Perot impression; Booth, who’s willing to sell out anyone and anybody as long as it means keeping his spoiled wife (Alicia Marie Marek) and daughter (Lindsay Lohan) in the lap of luxury; and Von Johnson (Don Johnson), leader of a militant group of citizens who gun down anything that tries to come close to the Mexican-American border.

In making a message movie about the dirty dealings of the illegal immigrant argument, director Robert Rodriguez doesn’t even try to go for something realistic.

Expanding on his own fake trailer from the movie “Planet Terror,” the filmmaker not only gives one of his favorite actors a headlining role for the first time, but also takes a big step in ushering the exploitation genre back into theaters, a project on which he and Quentin Tarantino have been working tirelessly since coming to prominence.

Just as blaxploitation films of the 1970s such as “Shaft” and “Superfly” gave audiences a glimpse at the plight of those shunted to the sideline by The Man, so does Machete’s saga.

Sure, it’s ludicrous, it’s one-sided, it’s extremely gory, but it works.

One question: Would the proper term be “Mexploitation?”

As surely as the title character of “Machete” will chop off your arm if you challenge him, you’ll walk out of his movie with a new perspective.

Maybe you’ll only be interested in the idea of Lohan being under a nun’s habit, but hey, even that’s something.

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