Exploitation movies don’t get much more deliriously exploitative than pulpy auteur Robert Rodriguez’s high-octane tribute to grindhouse cinema, Machete, co-directed by his long-time collaborator Ethan Maniquis.

Grindhouse is a genre celebrated for its so-bad-it’s-kinda-good blends of gratuitous nudity, laughably unrealistic gore and shonky plotlines perfect for late night thrill seekers — the sort of crowd whose measurement of film appreciation is roughly calculated by the amount of whooping exhaled per minute. It’s also perfectly disgusting feel-good fun for the upbeat down’n’dirty gallows humour of Rodriguez, who has a couple of grindhouse notches already etched on his snakeskin belt and others that have dabbled in the genre’s blood-tainted honeypots.

In his first starring role, rough-as-guts Hollywood hard man Danny Trejo — a walk-on veteran with more than 200 movies to his name — is perfectly cast as yeti-like Mexican killing machine Machete Cortez (guess what his favourite weapon is?) whose already cranky disposition is exacerbated when he watches his family get butchered in the film’s opening reel.

A few years later Machete is recruited (read: blackmailed) to assassinate Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) a conservative politician running on an election platform consisting entirely of a hard-line stance on border control. But the job is a set up; a ploy to get the senator sympathy votes and take him to No.1 on the ballot box (with a bullet). Machete goes on the run and a team of soon-to-be chopped meat baddies led by Torrez (Steven Seagull — one many irresistible turns of casting) chase and try to kill him, unaware that they’re up against a modern taco munching equivalent of Zeus with a headache.

Machete is a Mexican Harry Brown mingled with Death Wish on steroids and told with the junky charm of unpretentious slash-and-burn entertainment. Crucially, it has the sharpness and flair of a director who, when he hits his stride, can be fabulously stylistic, and here Rodriguez is at the top of his game. The action sequences carry a hint of Peter Jackson’s early work (Braindead, Bad Taste) in their embrace of harebrained delirium and cavalier SFX, closer to Play-Doh than CGI.
In one scene a character grabs onto another’s lower intestine and falls out a hospital window, still clutching it.

It’s not just grindhouse but grindhouse as social allegory — a commentary on America’s infatuation with the border control debate, a serious point 
made amid outrageous eccentricity and one that Australia — thank you Tony Abbott and your “stop the boats” mantra — can certainly relate to.

The details: Machete is playing in cinemas nationally.

Peter Fray

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