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Grindhouse, a double bill featuring Deathproof and Planet Terror, was created as a tribute to the lost genre of exploitation films as made famous by single screen theatres across America in the '70s. Sleaze, porn, slashers and kung fu flicks were the rage back then and this was the era that directors like Grindhouse directors and collaborators, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez grew up in. The homage to grindhouse cinemas made its mark... violent, sexual, deviant and overtly over-the-top without much substance.

However, it seemed like a hollow victory. Deathproof wasn't as edgy as many had hoped and if truth be told, the novelty of Rodriguez's sexy/dangerous machine gun-legged beauty eclipsed Tarantino. The tribute worked as a commercial entity, but it's ironic that these grindhouse flicks are armed to the teeth with big names and budgets, instead of tapping into the wealth of underground sleaze and pit of dodgy directors. In short, keepin' it real, ain't so real after all.

Machete spawned from the grindhouse "renaissance". Danny Trejo agreed to make one of several grindhouse trailers and audiences loved the concept so much, they decided to flesh out a film with him as the title character. Trejo's a B-movie legend and commands respect on the screen, whether it be for his pockmarked no-nonsense approach to acting or his street cred and wealth of performances. He's a hard man, a tough-as-nails-son-of-a-bitch and he was born to play Machete. Several of his film characters have been named after various blades in Spanish and Machete adds another notch to the collection.

Rodriguez did an excellent job with Planet Terror, also directed Sin City and knows how to add heaps of style and drench a film in cool. For the most part, he's managed to cater for Machete bringing an all-star cast to the cutting board with names like Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Lindsay Lohan and Don Johnson in support of Danny Trejo. Each star brings their own baggage to the film dragging a certain level of notoriety and sleaze cool into the picture. There aren't any stand out performances, yet each character has the goods to take the lead in their own spin-off grindhouse movie.

So what makes a good grindhouse movie? Well, that's up to the viewer and what they're hoping to garner from their selection of porn, slasher, martial arts and sleaze. Machete is a combination of all grindhouse elements with a special emphasis on action. Trejo riding a motorbike with a machine gun fitting and slicing-and-dicing enemies with a machete is what hooked everyone with the movie trailer. However, the best bits always seem to make the trailer edit and as such, Machete doesn't live up the hype.

Trejo is a character actor, not a lead and the film gets inundated with characters to keep things fresh. There's a loose plot about overthrowing a racist election candidate and liberating the Mexican labour force as our hero goes on-the-run only to follow the blood trails up to the boss in a spectacular climax of weaponry and attitude. The story is peppered with gun play, knives and a creative number of bloody kills... spattered with several naked women and loaded with testosterone. However, it just doesn't measure up to expectations. The trailer made it seem as though Machete would use the machine gun motorcycle more often and the whole production just lacks that something special present in the Grindhouse trailer.

It's a case of the fans demanding a full-length movie and the film-makers delivering, but where's the dark sleaze from Sin City and the deviant action of Planet Terror. Machete has several memorable fight scenes, a couple of risque religious gambles but it's just lacking the killer instinct. Grindhouse as a genre is more reckless, more passionate, tackier and more exploitative, whereas Machete seems to be holding back. Rodriguez is a family man, having directed movies like Spy Kids and Machete is bad, but not bad to the bone. Exploitative films were screened in a grindhouse for the very reason that they were the outcasts and rebels and Machete is a little cloying when it comes to its palpable Hollywood undercurrents.

The irony is that it's not using the risque material, but rather the big name stars to draw a crowd. You won't feel cheated after watching Machete, it has the fodder: violence, nudity and shock value - but it's a movie for the masses, suitable for commercial cinemas and fit for late night television viewing. As far as blades go, Machete is a little blunt... lacking the driving force of a true leading man, the grit and danger of a real exploitative film and cruising in on the wake of what could have been. This isn't to say it's not entertaining. The film is on par with Deathproof and a few shades short of matching Planet Terror, it just feels a little forced as a tribute and too safe, a grindhouse knock-off rather than a gritty gem.

The bottom line: Okay.


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