Who's In It: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Cheech Marin, Jeff Fahey, Lindsay Lohan, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson, Daryl Sabara
The Basics: Robert Rodriguez extends the faux trailer he made for 2007's Grindhouse into a feature-length love letter to character actor (and Rodriguez regular) Danny Trejo, who stars as the titular knife-wielding Federale-turned-folk hero. Betrayed by a former ally, Machete is left for dead in Mexico but turns up, years later, across the border in Texas. Pulled into a anti-immigration conspiracy plot by a corrupt senator (Robert De Niro) and his right hand man (Jeff Fahey), Machete breaks out the big guns (and the knives and scalpels and buzz saws and yes, machetes) to lead a populist revolution with the help of a few fiery Latinas (Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba), a shotgun-toting priest (Cheech Marin), and Lindsay Lohan as a nympho in a nun's habit.
What's the Deal: Fun, bloody, and mercifully aware of its own silliness, Machete is a strange hybrid of B-movie trappings, A-list (and C-list) stars, and strong political messaging that could only have come from genre filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. That messaging is as pointed as any pro-immigration stand that's been taken in the mainstream media of late (a Cinco de Mayo-timed trailer retroactively aimed Machete's ire at Arizona, although the film had been shot before the state's controversial anti-immigration bill had been signed into law), but Machete's sky-high body count and relentless dedication to tongue-in-cheek titillation keep the visceral amusements going at a fast clip. Between the buckets of outlandish gore, the copious female nudity, and the John Woo-style shoot-out in a church, Machete isn't for conservative types -- cinematically, morally, or politically speaking -- which is just fine by Rodriguez; the rest of us will gladly flock to Machete, whose debut announces to the world of spandexed strong men that there's a new kind of superhero in town -- one who speaks softly and carries a sharp blade.
"Introducing Don Johnson" and Presenting Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba in the Best Performances of Their Careers: Rodriguez brings a handful of familiar faces out of unofficial retirement to play Machete's villains, including Steven Seagal, whose last theatrical release was 2002's Half Past Dead, and Don Johnson, who's spent the last few years making European flicks and, most recently, appeared in the Hollywood rom-com crap fest When in Rome. But Machete's leading ladies also make surprisingly potent impressions. First, there's Michelle Rodriguez as a taco truck proprietress who emerges as a one-eyed, black leather-wearing guerrilla leader in a shot so awe-inspiringly bad ass it's seared into my eyeballs. Then there's Jessica Alba as a tough ICE agent on Machete's trail so tormented by her personal ethics that they haunt her even whilst naked in the shower. Both pull off the material with conviction, passion, and humor and turn in some of the best performances of their respective careers -- and that includes the part in which Alba kills a bad guy with a stiletto heel to the skull.
The One Other Amazingly Gory Bit I'll Spoil for You Here: Just to give you a sense of how ridiculously twisted the action that Rodriguez, co-director Ethan Maniquis, and co-scripter Álvaro Rodriguez have dreamed up is, there is a scene in which Machete slices open a man's stomach, grabs his intestines, runs down the hallway and leaps out of a window using the intestines as a swinging rope to get to the next floor below. Who's hungry for tacos now?
Best Cameo in Machete: Director Nimrod Antal, whose Predators reboot was produced by Rodriguez, shows up as a cocky, racist bodyguard who learns not to mess, as the tagline warns, "with the wrong Mexican."