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Yo Quiero Taco Hell

Machete (2010)

Joaquin Avellán/20th Century Fox

As a two-minute “fake” trailer accompanying the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino opus “Grindhouse,” “Machete” had its charms. But just as many such high concepts, it suffers from “Saturday Night Live” syndrome, petering out when elongated to feature length. Mr. Rodriguez’s love for Mexploitation reverberates throughout the picture, but the sense of spontaneous, over-the-top joy that abounds in the better recent B-movie “Piranha 3D” is conspicuously absent.

This Latino superhero film cycles through the expected splattering gore, cornball cultural empowerment and gratuitous nudity with the enthusiasm of a eunuch at an orgy. Part of the problem is stone-faced Danny Trejo, who lacks the charisma to transform the title character into much more than a cipher surrounded by hyperactivity. But there’s a bigger concern: The filmmaker, having spent his career making various iterations of the same nonsense, has lost his verve. With sporadic exceptions, the picture hits the expected marks in the expected places.

Ex-Federale Machete (Mr. Trejo) — hired by a mullet-sporting evil suit type (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate a xenophobic state senator (Robert De Niro) — is betrayed and on the run, helped by two beautiful women (Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba) and an underground illegal-immigrant network. Not that he needs much assistance: At one point, the hulking badass stabs a henchman with his favorite tool and uses the stunned shooter’s intestines to swing between a hospital’s floors.

Lowriders, taco trucks, cowboy hats and most of the usual signifiers abound. Asides, self-aware wisecracks and blabber about the “border landing on us” fill things out. Even the oddball assemblage of all-list types in the cast (Lindsay Lohan, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson and Steven Seagal round things out) reeks of self-congratulatory posturing, of an attention-grabbing ploy to once more emphasize that nothing below the surface matters. Mr. Rodriguez has no compunction about slyly mocking the usual casting conventions, bringing aboard such tabloid fixtures as Ms. Lohan and Mr. Seagal because their actual acting talents matter much less than the ways their superficial public images can be incorporated into the production.

In fact, the entire movie operates in a vacuum of self-conscious B-movie clichés that lose their appeal once sapped of their earnestness. No visceral, engaging emotions drive Machete — his wife is murdered early on, but in a typically overwrought comic fashion. Even Mr. Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” series, as ridiculous as it could be, was propelled by the Bride’s genuine fury. “Machete” pays lip service to the expected archetypes; but aside from some welcome, off-beat character choices made for the villains (Mr. Fahey, sporting a mullet and radiating sleaze, is a highlight), it regurgitates its pitch over and over again. Machete slaughters baddies, makes love to beautiful women and guns down some rednecks, all while proudly displaying his Hispanic heritage. You can practically see Mr. Rodriguez smirking off-camera, in love with the cleverness of it all.


Opens on Sept. 3 in the United States and on Nov. 26 in Britain.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis; written by Robert Rodriguez and Álvaro Rodriguez; director of photography, Jimmy Lindsey; edited by Robert Rodriguez and Rebecca Rodriguez; music by Chingon; production designer, Chris Stull; costumes by Nina Proctor; produced by Robert Rodriguez, Elizabeth Avellán and Rick Schwartz; released by 20th Century Fox. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Danny Trejo (Machete), Steven Seagal (Torrez), Michelle Rodriguez (Luz), Jeff Fahey (Booth), Cheech Marin (Padre), Lindsay Lohan (April), Alicia Rachel Marek (June), Don Johnson (Von), Jessica Alba (Sartana) and Robert De Niro (Senator McLaughlin).


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