Machete could not have come at a better time. It may have been a long two years in between this and Grindhouse, where we first learned that we fucked with the wrong Mexican, but it wasn’t quite as delayed as Sin City 2 or Needles, the latter of which has been on Rodriguez’s mind since the start, but to be fair has never technically entered development. It also came at a time when Rodriguez was confusing everyone with his family films; his philosophy is that he wanted to make movies his young kids could watch, because it’d be awhile before he could comfortable showcase, you know, From Dusk Till Dawn. Fair enough, but with the Spy Kids Trilogy just under his belt in addition to Shorts and Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3D, I was left wondering as to what his priorities were, which in the 90’s were definitely fun, fast, brutally violent action comedies.

News that Machete was going to be something of an homage to films that had Charles Bronson in it, but also the earlier Mexico Trilogy, and would star one of the best casts of the year (in a year that also included The Expendables) – with Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Robert DeNiro, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson, Tom Savini, Cheech Marin, and of course, Michelle Rodriguez – was exciting; and in this day and age! We never have violent action movies, but as it would turn out, the best 80’s action movie of that year, beating out R-rated movies like The Expendables and Machete, was Scott Pilgrim, which was rated PG-13.

And certainly we never have violent action movies directed by Robert Rodriguez. Or at least, only very rarely. Sin City, probably his best movie, isn’t quite as cartoonish as the Mexico films, so Machete was like a return to form for Robert Rodriguez. The thing is, Machete isn’t quite as cartoonish as the Mexico movies.

I really enjoyed Desperado. I liked El Mariachi. Once Upon a Time in Mexico glazed my eyes, but on the whole they represent an interesting trilogy, the Mexican Dollars Trilogy. They’re action westerns, and they’re fun. They aren’t about anything except a badass hero as played by Carlos Gallardo and then Antonio Banderas. He started out a benevolent loner with a guitar, and ended as the one man army in a complex drug war, or whatever the hell happened there.

Machete the character on the other hand is badass in conception. We see his actor in Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and From Dusk Till Dawn, and he’s always a brooding terror with a knife. In fact I think his names in all of the movies were knife-related. Going in we’ve been prepared to see Danny Trejo kick some ass, and because Machete has roots in the earlier Grindhouse, we know it’s going to be bloody.

So what do we have here? A movie better titled Once Upon a Time in Mexico, about the conflict with the border, politicians, assassination, sexy girls, and a whole lot of boring. This movie is not the action spectacle I was anticipating. It starts off strong, but the problem here is that it focused too strongly on its plot, the same thing that the actual Once Upon a Time in Mexico did. Some of the best action movies, like Die Hard and The Road Warrior, don’t have major stories, but have premises. The premise in Machete should have been: Machete goes around killing the people who double-crossed him. That should have also been the plot, but it isn’t.

Instead, we have this stuff about a revolution and an imminent war and overall the hot topic with the Mexican/American border. That hot topic was a concern for many leading up to the release of the film – some beautiful minds believed that the movie would spark a race war. I knew Rodriguez wouldn’t bog down the spirit of grindhouse and action to make actual comments on the controversy, and he doesn’t. However, it is entirely unecessary. Villains don’t need motivation in this context, period.

The story is not great, but the greatest sin of Machete is that its action is a far cry from Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn. We’ve come to understand that Rodriguez can goddamn shoot an action scene, a student of the school of Woo and other HK filmmakers, but the action scenes here were just not as energetic, and – this is the worst part – not gory. The bloody gags, like swinging from intestines, were inorganic and seemed to come out of nowhere. Compare this movie to Crank 2, which flies off the handle and isn’t anchored in anything like Machete is. When Chev Chelios does something crazy it feels natural because the movie has established that its a cartoon reality, but Machete doesn’t quite want to make the commitment to that world. It does in part – which is really worse than being one or the other.

When Podcast Co-Host and I went to go see Machete I was just as dissapointed as I was the first time I saw Avatar, which was really more like confusion. I said, yeah there were moments, but I wasn’t nearly as excited to see Michelle Rodriguez kicking ass with an eye-patch as I thought I would be. My mind got too numb due to boredom, an eerie repeat of when motorcycles started exploding at the end of Once Upon a Time in Mexico and I couldn’t register what was happening – I was falling asleep. Podcast Co-Host thought it was good, better than The Expendables certainly.

I told him repeatedly that he only likes it even to the day because he saw Black Dynamite after. I saw Black Dynamite before seeing Machete, and even though both have minimal violence, the Michael Jai White saga did the Machete formula better and bolder and funnier than Machete. I would put forth that Black Dynamite is the best Grindhouse movie, at least in terms of the ‘grindhouse’ movies that are aware of their roots and pay homage. Crank is something of a modern day grindhouse, more legitimate, but without the double feature element.

The best analogy I can think of to explain Machete is the scene where Jessica Alba fights with some evildoers, and she pokes one guy’s eye out with her stilleto heel. See I expected something a la Sin City, where a girl dressed rather absurdly killed someone rather absurdly, but it was so lame I dare not even describe it here. It may look good on paper, but it could have been executed better. Later on, or perhaps earlier, Jessica Alba wakes up in her bed and finds that Machete didn’t have sex with her while she had been unconscious. It might sound bad (it is), but why didn’t he? I wouldn’t have wanted to see that, but that would’ve been in the spirit of grindhouse.

There’s no sex in this movie. There’s no violence in this movie. There’s no Robert Rodriguez in this movie. You can show it to your kids. And that makes me wonder – what will we see next from Robert Rodriguez? Has his two types of movies – kid movies and not-kid movies, that is – melded?

Border? More like Boreder…

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