After a few late-summer films that should have been great fun but didn't fully deliver (The Expendables, Piranha 3D), Machete finally arrives and shows us how it's done (spoiler alert: it's done by ripping out your fucking intestines and using them as a rope to escape from buildings!). Rodriguez's expansion of his awesome "fake trailer" into a full-length exploitation (Mexsploitation!) flick is arguably even more successful than either his or Tarantino's Grindhouse features (Planet Terror and Death Proof, respectively), as it feels less like a gimmick and more like a true 70's exploitation flick, complete with those films' in-your-face social message of challenging "the Man" (in this case, the conservative, anti-immigration Right Wing). One could waste time (and some critics are) by pointing out its obvious Mexican stereotyping, but that too is in keeping with the genre's tendency to embrace stereotypes in the service of empowerment (have you critics never seen a Blaxsploitation picture?). For film geeks, this is pure pleasure as long as you're capable of embracing non-stop bloody mayhem. The cast is obviously having a blast: Jeff Fahey (playing it straight and awesome!); Lohan, transforming from naked druggie to pistol-packin,' ass-kickin' nun; Cheech the priest; "introducing Don Johnson"...as the vicious Von Jackson; and of course Danny Trejo, who WILL fuck you up, and hopefully return to do so again in Machete Kills!
The American is sort of glacially paced, relying little on dialogue, and if you see it with a full house (which you won't, after this weekend, because word-of-mouth won't be great) you will hear people sigh during the silent stretches and possibly complain when it's over. A man two rows below me: "I slept through most of it and the ending stinks." Let's discount that opinion, however, and offer another. The American is pretty good, but not great. There are better--very similar in plot if very different tone--hitman movies (In Bruges, The Hit, to name two). But this is confident film-making (by Anton Corbijn, who directed the excellent, gorgeous black-and-white Joy Division film Control). It's beautifully shot, and a rare thriller that knows how to create suspense without hyper-edited action sequences. As much as I like Clooney's recent film choices, I remain unconvinced of any particular acting range. A lot of the roles he's played lately (Michael Clayton, Up in the Air, this one) are men whose careers require them to express little in the way of human emotion. He's good at that. You'll totally buy him as a hitman having a bit of an existential crisis. Is the movie a little too proud of its "artsy" pacing? Probably. Some of the slower-than-slow patches are misleading, in that there is more going on that meets the eye at first, but there are patches of the film where I'm pretty sure it's just slow and moody as a sort of rebellion against anti-Hollywood action films. And I'm okay with that. But the guy two rows below me was most definitely not.