Texas-based writer-director Robert Rodriguez pays tribute to the movies that inspired him to become a filmmaker with a no-holds-barred, action-packed adventure that features knife fights, shootouts, car chases and beautiful women …and that's just in the first scene. Here's a look at Machete.
"I saw the file. 'Rogue federal agent ruled by a sense of destiny.' Machete."
He was a Federale - a Mexican national police officer - until a drug kingpin murdered his family. Then, it became personal. Left for dead, the ex-policeman nicknamed "Machete," (for his deadly skill with that long, sharp blade), slips across the Texas border and disappears into the legion of undocumented workers; but he soon finds himself in an underground movement for immigrant rights and against criminals like that notorious druglord.
"You're a fighter."
"Only when there's something worth fighting for."
Danny Trejo stars as "Machete," a character writer-director Robert Rodriguez explains he put in a mock 'trailer' or coming attraction preview as part of Grindhouse, his 2007 double-bill collaboration with Quentin Tarantino.
"The reason I made the movie was because that original trailer I put in Grindhouse had such a huge response from fans of all types, because they had never seen a movie like that before," Rodriguez says. "I thought it was kind of a no-brainer: how come nobody has ever made a movie like this before? You had 'blaxploitation' films, but you never had a Latin super-hero."
"Cuidado [warning], don't start what you can't finish, 'Machete.'"
"This movie is very strange [and] was very fun to do creatively," explains Rodriguez, "because I shot the trailer first and I wanted to use every shot from the trailer in the movie, so I had to 'reverse engineer' the movie. I looked at the trailer and said 'I need to use the shot of him doing this, how did he get there?' Then I'd come up with things to do that. So the scene of him in the waterfall with the two beautiful blondes …how did he get into that pool? And what twists can I put on it so that it surprises an audience?"
One twist that Rodriguez slips into Machete is framing the action scenes with a serious plot about the raging controversy over illegal immigration in the United States.
Robert DeNiro plays a blustering politician using the issue in his election campaign. Jessica Alba plays an immigration agent attempting to uphold the law.
"I think if it was a serious drama, we wouldn't be able to explore the political themes the way we do in this film," Alba says. "People go in thinking are watching this amazing action-comedy film and they can walk away with a conversation …they can walk away having an opinion on one side or the other. I feel like this also something that is politically and socially relevant anywhere in the world, because every country deals with immigrants and there are always two sides to the argument."
The punchy dialog and gritty action are in the style of low budget features Hollywood used to churn out to fill double-bills at local cinemas - so-called "B" movies; but that description bothers actress Michele Rodriguez (no relation to the writer-director) who plays a local activist in Machete.
"I don't like the sound of 'B' movie. I think it is more of an exploitation film," notes Rodriguez, "in the vein of Natural Born Killers or Pulp Fiction or any of those exploitative genres where you just exaggerate images. It's more artistic than a B movie, which is like Splat-man or something with really bad acting. This is different."
On the other hand, Robert Rodriguez embraces the "B" movie spirit.
"There is a quality to a 'B' movie. It is almost giving yourself permission to have more fun than you would normally have and when you go into a movie theater that's what you are going to do," the writer-director says. "You can go to the opera or you can go to the roller coaster. Some people want to go on the roller coaster. That's what I consider the 'B' movie to be.
"Not that it's 'less than …' It can be 'more than …' in a lot of ways if you're talking about the world of entertainment," he adds. "You can ask film students what their favorite film was and they might say a foreign film, but really their favorite first film that got them in love with movies was probably seeing Rambo or Raiders of the Lost Ark in a dark theater as a kid. Those movies travel really well. That's why those actors were big stars. They played all over the world, not just LA and New York, but Ukraine and Nigeria. You knew who the good guy was and who the bad guy was and they're really just fun, strong entertainment."
Machete also features Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan and veteran action star Steven Seagal. The film was shot at Robert Rodriguez's "Troublemaker Studios" in Austin, Texas.