One of the funnier things about Machete, the new action flick from Robert Rodriguez, is envisioning how much it will fluster anyone supporting border walls and Arizona SB 1070-style immigration laws. The film’s subject, an uprising of Mexican-American immigrants spurred by corruption on both sides of the border, practically begs conservatives and the even-further-right to cue their cultural hand-wringing.
Fortunately, we got a brief preview of the braying last May when Rodriguez released a special trailer for the film on Cinco de Mayo, directly in response to Arizona’s proposed bill giving law enforcement the right to demand papers from anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. In the trailer, the film’s star, a grizzled, armed-to-the-teeth Danny Trejo, growls that he’s got a message for Arizona. Cut to rallying brown-skinned day laborers hoisting machetes, and an ensuing melee of outlandish gore between presumed illegal aliens and honky-ass border patrolling vigilantes à la the Minutemen.
Oh, the horror. FOX News and the New York Post both reported on the trailer. FOX News entitled their May 6 article, “Violent movie declares war on Arizona for immigration law,” before pulling the story after realizing the film is produced by FOX. More recently, The Hollywood Reporter pondered in “How ‘Machete’ Inflames Immigration Debate” whether the film would spark violence similar to that which is depicted. But it was talk radio host and Infowars.com founder Alex Jones, known for extreme libertarian posturing, who squawked loudest in two videos released on his website May 9 and May 13. While praising Rodriguez as “a talented director” and “an intelligent guy,” and even admitting to liking a few of his previous films (our bet: the Spy Kids series), Jones warns that Machete is “a possible trigger for a serious race war in the United States.” And that’s just based off the two-minute Cinco de Mayo trailer. Once Jones gets the script in his sweaty little hands, “It’s worse than I can even imagine,” he moans on video four days later. “It is unspeakably evil.”
How exactly did Rodriguez bunch Jones’ briefs? For starters, Jones supports the Arizona bill and locking down the border; on an April 27 radio show he said, “I say deport everyone who’s here illegally!” As anyone familiar with Jones’ rhetoric might guess, this all somehow ties back to what he calls “the Globalists.” According to Jones, not only do these New World Order folks support open borders, they also conned Rodriguez into making a “propaganda film,” that is “a psy-op straight outta hell,” designed to incite racial hatred in both Anglos and Hispanics. Goaded by Machete, irate crowds on both sides will go to war, cities will burn, the Globalists will move one-step closer to total world domination without anyone being the wiser. Toward the end of a second video, Jones concludes, “Once again, they’re using racial warfare to divide this country as a tool of control, and Robert Rodriguez has been used as a dupe in this — or he’s a government operative.”
Or Rodriguez was just trying to make a good old-fashioned exploitation film. Machete has all the hallmarks of a ’70s Blaxploitation, so much so that the term “Mexploitation” already accompanies many Machete reviews. Badass dude seeking vengeance on issues bringing his community down: check. Machete is an ex-Federale forced to flee Mexico and become an illegal day laborer in Austin. Equally badass sexy ethnic chicks: check. Jessica Alba plays a law-lovin’ ICE agent to Michelle Rodriguez’s revolutionary taco truck owner. Violence so gory it’s not even threatening: check. There’s a scene in which Trejo rips out someone’s lower intestines to use as a rappel rope. Evil whiteys attempting to ruin the world: check. Don Johnson’s Hicksville border vigilante character is particularly loathsome, but nearly every white character is some kind of sleaze, from Robert De Niro’s campaigning state senator to his vile top aide played by Jeff Fahey. Even the baddest bad guy, a Mexican drug lord, is played by Irish-American Steven Seagal to keep within this exploitation convention.
And there’s not enough room to get into the visual throwbacks: split-screens, super-zooms, stylized title sequence, etc. All the while, Machete consciously plays the exploitation hallmarks for laughs. Cheech Marin as a shotgun-toting priest and Lindsey Lohan finding redemption in a nun’s habit? The Mexican underground arriving to their showdown with Johnson’s posse via a fleet of lowriders? It’s a pretty safe bet that if la revolución has a primary film, it won’t be Machete.
That said, within its over-the-top jokes and violence, Machete masterfully weaves together several issues within the immigration debate: weak U.S. politicians grasping for an easy issue to sell voters; heartless coyotes leaving their ferried immigrants as prey for overenthusiastic border protectors; U.S. citizens’ callous view of the “baby-droppers,” “wetbacks” and “cucarachas” they employ; and the violence and government corruption related to the Mexican drug trade (fueled by American demand) that maybe, just maybe, causes people to become desperate enough to illegally immigrate to another country in the first place. It’s a piece of political intrigue that even Jones might appreciate — if he wasn’t so distracted by the thought of machete-wielding brown people.
Callie Enlow reviews films for Metro Times. E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org.