They killed his family. They left him to die. They corrupted the Mexican town that he loved. Now a battered former federale makes a living as a day labourer in a small US border town. Perhaps he'd continue to lie low, but when he's set up for the attempted assassination of an anti-immigration political candidate, he's really had enough. Backed by the local immigrant community, a taco seller with revolutionary ambitions and a cop who's beginning to doubt her orders, not to mention a priest with an interesting attitude to the confessional, he's ready to take on the bad guys one by one and restore some justice to the world.

It's the perfect grindhouse set-up, and its bigger budget shouldn't make us forget the humble origins of its directorial team, who have done this stuff for real - there's plenty of humour but no-one could doubt the respect they have for the genre. Trejo is the perfect star, big, mean and decidedly unconventional. He's backed by an amazing star-studded cast all of whom clearly relish their roles. Michelle Rodriguez makes a fearsome action heroine who clearly has a destiny of her own. Jessica Alba at last gets her teeth into a role with some meat. Even Lindsay Lohan shines, sending up her media personality as the drug-addled daughter of the candidate's aide. As the candidate himself, Robert De Niro is understated but effective, and Don Johnson works well in the part of the gun-toting right-wing vigilante who will do anything to keep Mexicans out of his country. Steven Seagal may not quite convince as a deadly swordsman, in the shape he is now, but his B-movie star status is ideally suited to the film.

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Perhaps what marks this film out most is that it's not just another playful comedy; it has a strong political message. When filming in Arizona was complicated by an increasingly aggressive anti-immigrant crusade, Rodriguez rewrote parts of the film to make this more overt. Here, the little guys are very much caught in the middle, being exploited by business interests (legal and illegal) in both countries, and it's only when they stand together that they are able to resist. It is stressed that Texas' economy depends on immigrant workers, and the poverty and mistreatment of those workers is made clear - exploitation film-making with a point. This is no empty message - Rodriguez has consistently sought to employ more Hispanic cast and crew members, who often struggle to get work in the Hollywood mainstream, and there's a sense that this film is speaking for the whole team behind it.

That said, Machete isn't here to preach at you. Machete is all about action. Leaping through the air on a flaming motorbike, jumping out of a burning building, taking on all comers with improvised weapons, and making one of the most improbable hospital escapes ever filmed (did you know that the human intestine is 60 feet long?), he'll show you a good time all the way. The pacing never lets up and the action continually tries to outdo itself with its inventiveness. This is intercut with suitably lurid softcore love scenes and a charming vignette in which a group of henchmen briefly question their vocation. There's gore, there's nudity, there are gratuitous explosions - everything a B-movie connoisseur could want.

Judging by its reviews elsewhere, many critics clearly haven't understood Machete. Don't let them put you off. If you like a film with spirit, this is for you. Its revolutionary message couldn't be more timely and it's just the thing to energise those who feel dispirited by political corruption today.

Reviewed on: 26 Nov 2010
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Armed only with his machete, a pissed-off Mexican sets out to avenge a set-up and the murder of his family, and to bring justice to a US border town.
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Director: Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez

Writer: Robert Rodriguez, Álvaro Rodríguez

Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Steven Seagal, Robert De Niro, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, Cheech Marin

Year: 2010

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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