Machete isn't what you would call a complex guy. For him, indecision means deciding whether to cut off someone's head straight away or to remove the arms first. His tortured moments only come when he's actually being tortured.
No, Machete is not the kind of guy who would likely get much out of counseling. He's far more inclined to spill someone else's guts—literally—than spill his own.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The man known as Machete used to be a Mexican federale—a federal agent south of the border. Now, after an unfortunate run-in with a brutal drug lord and his murderous band of henchman, he's just an illegal immigrant in Texas—one of perhaps 15 million in the United States, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. He wants to earn a living as a day laborer, but it seems almost impossible for him to do so. Then a swarthy fellow named Booth asks if he'd like to be an assassin instead. Kill a senator, he says, and earn a cool $150,000.
At first, Machete says no. But Booth can be very persuasive. (He tells Machete that if he doesn't accept the gig, he'll make sure "bad things" come his way.) And so Machete takes the money—immediately handing it over to a woman named Luz, leader of an organization she calls The Network, which helps Mexicans cross the border illegally and get settled in the United States. Then he picks up a gun, takes up a rooftop position and prepares to shoot the senator. Machete doesn't intend to kill the hardline senator, a man named John McLaughlin, who's built his campaign on the promise of keeping illegal immigrants out of the country. No, Machete just wants to keep him from saying "such stupid things."
Alas, Machete is being set up to take the fall as a failed assassin—and, if all goes well, die quickly thereafter.
But Machete, we learn, is ridiculously hard to kill. The folks who are after him? Not so much.
As the movie opens, Machete is doggedly trying to bust a notorious drug lord, Torrez, when no one else is willing to try. He risks his life and everything he holds dear in the process. "If not us, who?" he asks his soon-to-be-dead partner. Elsewhere, he tries to whisk several people out of harm's way and, at times, will even spare the occasional life.
A woman named Sartana, who's in charge of enforcing illegal immigration policies, praises the opportunities America offers. She talks about how she worked her way up from nothing into a good career and stability in her life (though, significantly, she later opts to scrap that stability and way of life).
Machete's brother is a morally compromised Catholic priest. Wishing to get his brother out of the church, the padre says, "I absolve you of all your sins. Now get the f‑‑‑ out." And when Machete brings two drugged, naked women to his brother's doorstep, the padre exasperatedly says, "The church can always use good people."
The padre is later involved in a bloody, brutal, church-desecrating shootout with a clutch of thugs. One of them begs for mercy as the padre holds a gun to his head. "God has mercy. I don't," he quips just before pulling the trigger. Later the priest is graphically crucified on a church cross by Booth and his lackies. "Ave Maria" plays throughout the gory scene.
Videotapes of Booth in confession are shown, including one in which he asks whether there's a commandment against "winging" someone. As he dies, Booth asks where his wife and daughter are. When someone says that they're "with God," Booth says he won't be seeing them again (implying that he's headed the other direction in the afterlife).
A naked woman named April dons a nun's habit. Booth threatens to send her to a convent. The Lord's Prayer, hail Marys and candle-lighting for the dead get screen time. Machete wears a cross. A building is painted with a mural of Christ. A makeshift Catholic shrine is erected for a leader who is presumed dead.
Four or five women are seen naked, though full-frontal nudity is obscured by strategically placed objects. April's and June's bare breasts and backsides are frequently exposed, and Sartana is seen from the side taking a shower, her arm partially covering her breast. A woman pulls a phone out of her vagina. (Her back is turned, but sound effects and her motions communicate all too well.) Booth says he has sexual fantasies about his daughter.
A drunk Sartana and Machete lie together, but Machete doesn't take advantage of her, leading Sartana to say that Machete is a "perfect gentleman." He's not. He engages in a ménage à trois with April and June in a swimming pool. All participants are, at the very least, shirtless (we see the women's breasts), and he passionately kisses both women. It's implied that Luz and Machete have sex. (She straddles him as the camera moves away.) A naked woman makes a crude double entendre as she fondles Machete's favorite killing weapon.
Women are objectified as men ogle their backsides and make suggestive comments. Ladies wear bikinis as well as tight, low-cut tank tops and short shorts. A man's nipple ring gets camera time. Male and female genitalia are crudely mentioned several times.
It's a telling exercise to go through the thesaurus and see which synonyms for the verb "to wound" aren't applicable when it comes to the violence in Machete. Here are the entries: "Injure, tear, stab, lacerate, rend, slit, slash, gash, cut up, burn, torture, torment, pierce, puncture, impale, wrench." Yup, they all work—and that's the short list.
We're forced to witness several decapitations. One victim is Machete's wife, and he's forced to watch the baddies kill her. Multiple men are brutally gunned down. Machete severs a man's hand with—what else—a machete. Torrez shoots a woman point-blank in the head for no apparent reason. A man is riddled with gunfire as he rides shotgun (pun intended) in a car driven into enemy territory. Men with machine guns rain down bullets and/or engage in hand-to-hand combat.
And that's just the first 10 minutes.
In the 95 minutes that follow, bullets pierce joints, eyes and other body parts. A pregnant woman is intentionally shot while trying to cross the border. Machete eviscerates a man, then uses his intestines to swing to a lower floor of a building as the still living victim screams in agony. Necks get broken or strangled.
Machete slices, dices and bloodies up faces—and any other limbs within the reach of his blades. People are killed with knives, bombs, nails, corkscrews, decorative obelisks, mirror shards, stiletto heels, bouncing trucks, oven thermometers and garden implements. Blood flows, gushes and spatters with every one of the seemingly countless deaths that take place.
Senator McLaughlin is mistaken for an illegal alien and shot multiple times as he's shocked by an electric fence at the U.S./Mexico border. Blood oozes out of his wounds and mouth as he begs vigilantes for mercy. (No surprise: He doesn't receive any.) A bloodied and burned corpse falls on a windshield.
And there's more. More decapitation. A crucifixion. Virtually every body part that can be impaled, maimed, mutilated, removed or shot is.
Crude or Profane Language
Nearly 40 f-words, 20 s-words and one use of a harsh slang term for oral sex. God's name is misused about 20 times (including a dozen or so pairings with "d‑‑n"), and Jesus' name gets abused at least three times. Other language includes "b‑‑ch" and "a‑‑hole." Several Spanish profanities are also uttered.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Hard liquor is served several times. Sartana gets falling-down drunk. Machete is offered a huge, cigar-sized marijuana joint by his brother. The camera closes in on a bottle of tequila Machete holds before he, April and June get drunk. It's also said he drugged the women in order to kidnap them.
The padre drinks wine, and Booth says the "blood of Christ" tastes like merlot. Drug-trade money fuels border tensions and funds McLaughlin's campaign. Booth pulls April out of a drug den. McLaughlin takes heart medication with a bottle of booze. Von and others smoke cigars or cigarettes.
Other Negative Elements
Numerous people lie and double-cross one another. The senator exploits a wound he received in a failed assassination attempt to garner sympathy votes in an upcoming election. Characters use racial slurs to describe Mexicans, and a senator refers to illegal immigrants as "parasites" and "terrorists." We see people vomit three times.
It would seem that Machete got its start as a faux trailer targeting hard-core fans of the 2007 double-feature splatterfest Grindhouse. But it's also true (and sad) that a character with the same name, played by the same actor, Danny Trejo, showed up in the Spy Kids movies first. It was May 2010 when a real trailer for this so-called "Mexploitation" film singled out the state of Arizona for its strict new illegal immigration law. In the trailer, Trejo intoned, "This is Machete with a special Cinco de Mayo message—to Arizona!" The trailer that followed highlighted the film's bloody mayhem … and message.
"I simply wanted to make a special trailer that was as absurd as what was happening in Arizona," director Robert Rodriguez told aintitcool.com, "So I took some coincidentally timely lines of dialogue from the old original fake trailer from three years ago and from the new movie, reconfigured action beats, and cut it all out of context to make it look like the entire film was about Machete leading a revolt against anti-immigration politicians and border vigilantes. What can I say, it was Cinco de Mayo, and I had too much tequila."
But make no mistake: Rodriguez does have a political point to make with Machete. Volunteer border guards are sadistic racists, and illegal immigrants are heroes and martyrs. Sartana, a Latin American immigration official in the United States, is caught in between. Eventually she concludes that the "right" thing to do is scrap the badge and join Machete, an antihero who morphs into something akin to a William Wallace-like figure in his quest to fight for oppressed illegal immigrants everywhere. "If the laws don't offer us justice, they aren't laws," Sartana tells us. "We didn't cross the border—the border crossed us!"
"Rarely has the 'case' against Anglo America been made as strongly, albeit cartoonishly, as in Machete," writes James P. Pinkerton of Fox News. "In the film … all the Anglos are either evil or stupid. By contrast, the Hispanics are almost all innocent victims, until, of course, the rousing moment of liberation at the end."
The immigration issue inspires a great deal of passion on both sides of the ideological fence. Whether or not someone agrees with Machete's over-the-top take on anti-immigration laws as a form of injustice and exploitation, however, ultimately isn't the conversation we need to have here. Instead, we need to focus on another kind of exploitation—the kind Rodriguez employs to grotesquely bloody effect in the process of delivering his political message.
Before we've even heard our first reference to "the border," we've already witnessed people being shot, stabbed, beheaded and dismembered. We've been subjected to several minutes of screen time with a naked woman (who retrieves a cell phone from inside of herself). Machete's opening 10 minutes administer a jolt of hard-R imagery, in terms of both sex and violence, that's as jarringly graphic as any movie in recent memory.
Yes, it's satire. Yes, it's an homage to the hyperbolic exploitation films of the '70s. Yes, the violence is supposed to be outrageous—what Pinkerton labels "blood and guts slapstick." We get it. But it doesn't change the fact that Machete rips through humans like a pack of Komodo dragons rips through a water buffalo after a five-month fast.
Robert Rodriguez may be trying to make a political statement with Machete. But the "aesthetic" statement he makes here is far, far louder … and bloodier.