Mike Fleming

Even though Robert Rodriguez and Danny Trejo launch Machete today amidst an onslaught of press that tries to make the film a lightning rod for debate on immigration, that wasn’t their goal. What they really wanted was to bring back the spirit of exploitation films which seemed to seize on a political issue, only to use it as an excuse to blow shit up and drop in as much nudity and over-the-top violence as they could get away with. Mission accomplished. “This was always about making a what would feel like a good old ’70s exploitation film,” Rodriguez told me. “What they did back in the day was, run out, make an over the top movie that exploited a story in the news so that it felt like it was ripped from the headlines of today, and move faster than studios could. That’s what we did. It was 16 years ago when I met Danny and said I needed to make this movie called Machete, because he looked like this Clint Eastwood type who would not back down from a fight. Immigration is still relevant, nobody has done anything about it, but it’s a smokescreen. The real Machete story underneath was always about an action hero you underestimate, who comes from a violent background, this incorruptible former Federale hiding out as a day laborer.”

The seeds for the film were planted in the mock-Machete trailer shown between features in the 2007 double-feature Grindhouse, where Trejo used cutlery and his trademark lethal stare to reinforce the movie’s tagline that “They just fucked with the wrong Mexican.” Rodriguez said that even though Grindhouse flopped, enough saw the trailer to establish Machete as a pre-sold property. For that reason, Rodriguez thinks it has a better chance in theaters than Grindhouse. The ending suggests not one but two sequels–Machete Kills, and Machete Kills Again. It’s a coda that gets the audience laughing, but if the film does well enough, who knows?

Trejo said he too was dubious about the Machete message being misconstrued. “You can always find an issue in a movie,” he told me. “I always wondered, what was Snow White really doing with those Seven Dwarves that made them head off in the morning whistling so happily? Was she freaky for little people?” Trejo, a reformed bad guy who served hard time before reforming and becoming a prolific actor, said leading man status hasn’t changed him much. If this leads him to become the Latino Charles Bronson, the big benefit is it makes him a more convincing spokesman in his ongoing crusade to visit as many prisons, juvie halls and schools as possible, lecturing troubled kids on the border of getting in real trouble, the path he once traveled. Trejo might even get more of his costars to tour prisons with him. His Heat and Machete costar Robert De Niro is the only one who showed up when Trejo asked him to. “This was in Whittier, where I was meeting these youngsters, 16-25, who’d all committed 187s, gang murders. These prisons are noisy, but when he came in, it became so stone quiet the guards got nervous. He doesn’t say a whole lot, and drove 60 miles to talk for a minute and a half. When he left, everybody in the place went hysterical. I was like, ‘That’s the motherfucker that’s in Machete, America’s greatest actor.’ Now, that meant something to me.”

Below is a trailer that captures the true exploitation spirit of Machete.