by Robert Henderson
Director: Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez 104mins Released 2010
Starring: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan , Michelle Rodriguez,
This is a shameful film for any American actor to have agree to appear in. Reviewers have generally given it a panning simply on the grounds of its general cinematic incompetence, with a few of the more “sophisticated” hacks speaking knowingly about it being a spoof on B movies which builds upon the Grindhouse double bill (Planet Terror and Death Proof ) Rodrigues made with Quentin Tarrantino a few years ago. The reality is that it is simply an artistic mess . But none of this is the reason why it is shameful. That distinction rests on the fact that the film is an unabashed propaganda vehicle for mass Mexican immigration into the USA which rams home in an excruciating gross fashion the message white unhyphenated Americans BAD, Latino immigrants GOOD. I would like to say Goebbels would have been proud of it, but sadly I cannot because he would never have made anything so bluntly crass in its message.
The plot is liberal agitprop at its most over-excitable. Robert De Niro is Texas Senator John McLaughlin who is campaigning against illegal Mexican immigration and for the construction of a barrier across the USA to prevent easy illegal immigration. He likes nothing better than to spend time riding out with a group of border-enforcing vigilantes led by Don Johnson as Von Jackson. Early in the film McLaughlin shoots dead a female “wetback” with relish and just to make sure the message of his unequivocal evil strikes home, the woman is pregnant.
On the other side of the immigration argument is a one-time Mexican government agent (Danny Trejo as Machete Cortez) has his wife and daughter murdered by a drug baron (Steven Seagal as Rogelio Torrez) whilst on duty. This sends him on the run and we next meet him living in Texas illegally whilst trying to eke a living as a day-labourer.
Machete is approached by a man who unbeknown to him is the Senator’s spin doctor (Jeff Fahey as Michael Booth) as well as being a corrupt businessman. Booth offers Machete $150,000 dollars to shoot McClaughlin, saying he wanted him dead because McClaughlin is all for sending illegal Mexican immigrants back home and that would ruin the economy of Texas which it is claimed is dependent on illegal Mexican labour. Machete is dubious but reluctantly agrees after Booth threatens to set US immigration on him.
But it is a set-up. Just as Machete is preparing to shoot the Senator a shot rings out and Mclaughlin collapses with a leg wound. The non-fatal shooting has been arranged by Booth to gain the Senator support by portraying a Mexican immigrant (Machete) as the would-be assassin. However, Machete evades capture and then goes on the run committing ever greater mayhem as he goes, stopping only to donate his $150,000 to the leader of Mexican group devoted to smuggling Mexican immigrants into the USA (played by Michelle Rodriguez ) who variously goes by the names Luz or Shé and runs her operation from a fast food van.(I am not making this up, honest!)
As Machete weaves his shambolically violent way through the film his brother, a catholic priest played by Cheech Marin, is killed by Booth by crucifying him to the cross in his church. This prompts Machete to kidnap Booth’s wife and daughter April (played by Lindsay Lohan in the least demanding “starring” role ever) and Luz shoots dead Booth as he attempts to find them. The final stages of the action if it can be so dignified has Machete, Luz and co engaging in a fight with the border vigilantes and (natch) routing them. In an heroically laboured piece of dramatic irony , Senator McLaughlin escapes, but is shot dead the remains of the vigilante group who mistake him for a Mexican.
A US immigration officer Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba ) of Mexican origins pops up throughout the action and moves during the course of the film from being accused of being a renegade helping the gringos who is hunting Machete to a supporter of Luz’s organisation who gives Machete illegally obtained papers legalising his position in the USA.
That all sounds pretty silly doesn’t it? I dare say if Rodrigues was challenged over the one-eyed portrayal of illegal immigration as good and resistance to it as evil he would try to shrug off it off by saying he was being ironic or merely spoofing B movies. But that will not wash. There is the clearest of political messages being sent . That message was immigrants have the right to come to the USA regardless of what Americans think. Indeed, it goes further than that: it says to stop them coming is criminal and only the vicious racist would dream of doing so. To reinforce this point ceaselessly, every anti-immigrant character from McLaughlin to the humblest vigilante is portrayed as either having no redeeming feature or ,as is the case with Sartana Rivera, as someone seeing the light and switching their allegiance to the immigrants’ cause. Those who are pro-immigrant throughout are presented as being without moral blemish.
The depiction of Americans taking the immigrants’ side is a prime propaganda theme throughout. Not only does Sartana betray her duty as a US immigration officer, but doctors and nurses at a hospital are shown to be part of Luz’s group, and one of the security men at Michael Booth’s house suddenly gets the urge to say about illegal Mexicans that “We let them into our homes, we entrust our children to them but we say they shouldn’t be here. It’s crazy”. His fellow security men agree. Well, of course, the “we” here is not the “we” referred to by the security man. He means the entire population, but the “we” who make the decisions are the haves not the have-nots. The latter are in reality fiercely opposed to such immigration and are the ones who have to bear the consequences of the immigration through competition for jobs and houses, higher taxes for welfare and the general misery of either having to live in the invaded areas or move out.
But to tar anti-immigration proponents with the racism brush is not enough for Rodrigues. Michael Booth is presented as the immoral face of business. He supports the idea of the anti-immigrant barrier not because he is against immigration but because such a barrier would allow the flow of illegal immigrants to continue by making it possible for the likes of him to control by controlling the entry points. There would still be illegals but they would have to pay more to get into the USA.
The saddest thing about the film is Robert De Niro. He has for all too long been turning up in films primarily to collect his pay packet. Here there is no primarily about it. In easily the worst performance of his career, the awfulness of his acting is only mitigated by being placed against the backdrop of a cast producing even more embarrassing fare.
What would have been an interesting film on the subject of mass Mexican immigration into the US? How about one which showed it for what it is, an insidious form of conquest, with those resisting it being seen as patriots defending their territory , the immigrants as invaders and those Americans who supported and facilitated the immigration as traitors? Somehow I doubt whether that film will get made any time soon.