Mexican super-cop Machete (Trejo), in pursuit of drug kingpin Torrez (Seagal), attempts a botched raid that ends with his wife dead and himself disgraced. While living illegally in Austin, he gets caught up in a plot involving the potential assassination of an anti-immigration senator (De Niro) and the militia he helps fund (led by Johnson). A ridiculous, grisly but flawed action flick.
Based on a fake trailer from 2007’s Grindhouse double-feature, Machete looks to emulate the gritty, trashy, low-budget charm of ’70s-era exploitation films, and for a large part of the movie, it does this well. The look and feel are spot-on, and the performances are deliciously hammy. Trejo is a great fit for the character, though I like him the most when he plays it monosyllabic (“Machete don’t text.”). De Niro is oddly understated in his role, but slimy and effective; Segal’s Torrez is hilariously steeped in self-parody; and the ladies (Alba, Rodriguez and the aptly cast Lindsay Lohan) give the film a welcome sexiness. However, the tone of the picture varies throughout, hitting its low points when things get political. The immigration issues felt too “on-the-nose,” and many of its ideas seemed uncomfortably realistic (try listening to De Niro’s character and not cringe). Either toning them down or going even bigger might’ve helped. The ridiculous action scenes, especially those set against familiar Austin landmarks, are a highlight, but the rest of the flick could have been condensed. It’s certainly a good attempt at a ’70s throwback, but it doesn’t quite land.