Mr. Robert Rodriguez dispenses his disposable grindhouse cinema upon us once again.  Don’t take that as a rip on the man.  As one of the few filmmakers allowed to take a film and design it from concept to execution, making it completely and utterly as he sees it, I commend him on all of his accomplishments.  He’s a fanboy movie-lover making fanboys all over the world jump for joy.  With Sin City and From Dusk Til Dawn, he’s proven himself a filmmaker in a distinct class of his own, even while turning his head to make Spy Kids movies for the youngsters.  Machete, the extended feature-length trailer to compliment his ‘fake trailer’ used in his and Tarantino’s Grindhouse experiment three years ago, turns out to be one of the goofiest action movies to approach self-parody without being a full-blown spoof on the genre.

Most comparable to the shoddy, bloody and dumb fun of Shoot Em Up, Rodriguez and his co-director Ethan Maniquis do not restrain from any of their most remote sensibilities in turning Machete into a cheese-fest, throwing everything that can spray blood and produce laughter at the screen.  It feels the only approach they saw to this Mexican revenge saga was to take it as a great big in-joke comedy.  For those expecting Death Wish or Man on Fire, look elsewhere.  Rodriguez and Maniquis bring Machete to the screen for actors like Robert DeNiro, Jeff Fahey, Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Alba—giving them ample opportunity to ham it up as much as they can.  They seem to be having fun, so I suppose we should too.

Machete, starring typical villain Danny Trejo at age 66 as the title character, is on a mission for revenge.  As a former federal agent working for the U.S., he opens the film betrayed and left for dead following a rescue operation that results in a crime boss (Steven Seagal) taking the lives of his wife and daughter.  Failing to learn from his mistakes, he hides out along the border of Mexico and takes a job of assassinating Senator McLaughlin (DeNiro) in an effort to prevent him from constructing a wall that will separate the U.S. and Mexico.  Could it be that the assassination is a major setup for Machete, and that his employers turn him into a target?  Now with every lawman looking for his head, Machete must dodge death continuously and succeeds in doing so (simply because he’s that guy that won’t die).  With the help of an underground immigrant smuggler (Michelle Rodriguez), another federal agent (Jessica Alba), and his own brother—a priest with an arsenal of weaponry (Cheech Marin), Machete brings the fight to Senator McLaughlin (DeNiro) and his adviser (Fahey) that hired him.  Oh, and everyone that has ever wronged him must pay too.

Nonsensical cutthroat violence culminates most of Rodriguez’s campy exploitation film, a prime B-movie belonging in a second Grindhouse feature.   The filmmaker even recycles clips from his original 2007 trailer and incorporates them into the movie—that was actually a nice touch.  The enjoyment of the film rests solely on what an audience is looking for.  I think it will work strictly for the Rodriguez fanbase, and all others need not apply.  I enjoyed it for what it was.  Rarely would an audience be treated to a film that throws Steven Seagal, Robert DeNiro, and Lindsay Lohan together.  That is all Machete is: a barrage of talent from all levels thrown into a campy thriller where an antihero with the face of Trejo can get the girls, kill the bad guys, and stick a thorn into illegal immigration.  Machete knows it is pure trash and flaunts it.    By the end, the movie sinks (or rises) to Monty Python-level hilarity in a scene pitting the aging Seagal against the aging Trejo.  Mr. Seagal, in all his years, has never seen better days on screen, giving us the film’s most bizarre moment.  However, we are meant to indulge in it and enjoy the stupidity, as with the entire movie.  Taking any single frame seriously would be a slap in the face to the filmmakers.

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If there has ever been a franchise sequel I’ve been longing for, it could be none other than Predators, a standalone installment that would rid the stink of both recent Alien vs. Predator pictures and delve further into the universe of a race of alien hunter-killers.  Not since the so-so 1990 film Predator 2 has a proper sequel to the original 1987 actioner been released.  Twenty years later with the help of producer Robert Rodriguez, the series seemed to be in store for a worthy recharge of the batteries.  All the elements were in place for a fantastic action-movie experience, but the movie is a little  reserved, hesitant and feels slapped together.

The best that can be said about Predators is that it starts off with a bang.  As the film opens, Adrien Brody (yes, Oscar-winner Adrien Brody) falls from the sky, unconscious and unaware, that is until he wakes up mid-fall, and his parachute bursts open as he hits the ground with a thud.  In the middle of a jungle, other characters soon follow plunging to earth.  A handful of characters, unaware of where they are or how they got there, soon realize they have something in common: there all hard-boiled killers.  A U.S. mercenary, a Yakuza samurai, a death-row inmate, a warlord, a blacks ops sniper, and a few others culminate a group of prey for three nasty predator hunters.  Royce (Brody), the mercenary, soon comes to realize their purpose in this jungle, seemingly a Predator game preserve planet, and ends up taking lead in the fight against the alien hunters with hopes of finding a way back to Earth.

Robert Rodriguez was apparently given free reign on this project, producing at his very own Troublemaker Studios without studio interference.  Nimrod Antal (Armored, Vacancy) actually directs the film, and does a decent enough job establishing the Predator world, and making Predators look and sound like a sequel to the original Predator. Early on, I was very pleased to find out the filmmakers decided to reuse Alan Silvestri’s original musical score for this sequel.  And with a return to a jungle environment, the film at least attempts to please fans of John McTiernan’s film.  But that’s about where Predators stops working in our favor.

Most of the characters occupying the story disappoint.  Aside from a surprisingly solid and bulky Adrien Brody (trying desperately to fill in the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger) delivering a favorable performance, the rest of the characters are extremely disappointing—or at least they are written terribly.  Even Laurence Fishburne, who is introduced midway into the picture, comes in strong, and quickly descends into a stupid ten-minute segment, as his character has been trapped on the Predator planet for ten years, surviving off of whatever he can scavage and store.  He harbors Brody and the other human inhabitants running for their lives, only to exit the movie quickly and provide little substance.  The same can be said for the other characters as well.  They are no more than cardboard cutouts designed by the script to be shooting targets for the predators.  As a group of skilled human killers, apparently selected for these particular skills, I hoped these people would collaborate in hunting the predators and fighting back, but they had nothing of interest to add to the plot or any of the chases.

This brings me to the Predators themselves.  It’s as if they’re an afterthought, as they are extraordinarily underused.  The original 1987 Predator was a thoughtful, skillful hunter, utilizing his environment, and was frankly pretty darn terrifying.  Rodriguez, himself, declared Predators to Predator as Aliens was to Alien.  I’m sorry to say he is mistaking.  There is far more suspense and more action in the original.  Not to say that Antal’s film completely bores, as the action sequences are filmed decent enough and quite gritty, but the choreography (especially in a scene where the Yakuza samurai swordfights a Predator) feels dull and sloppy.  The Predators have no interesting weapons, no personalities, and nothing of interest to learn about them.  I did appreciate seeing some different creatures running amok on the alien planet, such as Predator dogs, and otherworldly species as well.  But there’s not quite enough of that explored.  I ultimately started noticing that anything that was introduced in Predators that I wanted more of, quickly disappeared. And any time I wanted the plot to explore ideas that came to fruition, the movie veered off into nonsensical dialogue that goes nowhere.  In fact, nothing is explained about how these human characters even arrive on this distant planet.  In some ways that is okay by me, as it presents ideas that could be explored in another movie, but I highly doubt the filmmakers ever intend to address any of these possibilities.

Overall, Predators was a disappointment.  It’s not as bad as the AVP disasters, but it’s not as good as Predator 2, and definitely not even close to the original Predator.  It is obvious the film is a simple miscalculation and probably came together too quickly.  However, enough interesting ideas are introduced—they just go unused or underdeveloped.  Another sequel could tighten things up, as Predators ends with somewhat of a cliffhanger.  I definitely would love to see another installment tie up the loose ends, and deliver a much more suspenseful premise.  All die-hard Predator fans should see this sequel, as there’s enough here to keep you interested, but not quite enough to thrill you.  Here’s hoping for a better follow-up.

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