While the debate over illegal immigration in America can get heated, I doubt it'll be decided by the slaughter of dozens of people. Then again, maybe that's the point of Machete: a return to the grindhouse films of old, where social commentary was part of deliberate and extreme excess.

At the start of Machete, we see Machete (Danny Trejo) working as a Federale in Mexico. Evil drug kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal, Mexican villain with a samurai sword) kills Machete's family and leaves him to die in a burning building. We then jump ahead three years, and Machete is now an illegal alien and day laborer in America. He's hired to kill someone, gets framed for attempted murder, and... it's payback time!

The plot isn't as important as the bad guys and good guys. The villains, all intertwined in a plot involving murder, corruption, and a giant electrified border fence between Mexico and Texas, include: the aforementioned Torrez; Booth (Jeff Fahey), a scheming businessman who set up Machete; Senator McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro), campaigning against immigrants; and Lt. Stillman (Don Johnson), a vigilante border patrol leader.

The good guys and gals are as loyal and good (and Mexican or Latin American) as the villains are selfish and evil (and white). Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) runs a taco truck -- and possibly the Network, which supports immigrants. Sartana (Jessica Alba) is the pro-authority immigration agent who soon finds herself working against the bad guys. Padre Benito del Toro (Cheech Marin) is Machete's brother, a priest who's also good with a shotgun. And there's a literal army of immigrants ready... to follow Machete!

Machete began as a fake trailer between the features in Grindhouse, and it both has and lacks the excesses of the original: Machete has no annoying deliberate missing scenes or scratchy film, but it also lacks its own wild trailers for other fake films (that apparently can get made). Machete also has amazingly over-the-top characters, the sort of caricatures that were popular in the original grindhouse flicks. Machete glowers through the movie, killing villains in gory and creative ways, gettin' down with just about every woman he meets (always to the same porno music), and inspiring all Latinos and Latinas to unite! The female stars all beauties who kick ass, the villains do everything from shoot pregnant women to lust after their daughters, and the body count just rises and rises.

Machete does have some social commentary about immigration, but it's as subtle as Machete lopping off limbs with his title weapon. This movie is more of a gory joke, seeing how much exploitation they can squeeze into a movie. Sexy nurses with uzis? Check! Lindsay Lohan as a wasted nympho? Check! Bad guys killed with gardening equipment? Check! There's no depth to any character in the movie, but the actors clearly have fun hamming it up. Machete is a simple movie in many ways, but it's a fun way to turn your off brain and find out how much more ridiculous a movie can become -- by choice.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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