Predators and Machete (2010) a (mildly belated) Robert Rodriguez double feature review!

A few days back, when reviewing Haywire, I noted the director of that film, Steven Soderbergh, was some kind of speed demon in the movie industry, releasing a tremendous amount of material since his first movie credits.

There is another movie director/producer speed demon out there, and this one’s output, at least given his fewer years in the industry, is nonetheless running neck and neck with Mr. Soderbergh’s: Robert Rodriguez.  While Mr. Soderbergh’s films tend to be more “artistic”, there is little doubt Mr. Rodriguez’s focus is on more crowd pleasing action/adventure films.

In 2010, Mr. Rodriguez’s Toublemaker Studios released two films.  In the past couple of days I finally got a chance to see both of them.

First up is Predators, a sequel to the popular alien hunter/killer films.  The original 1987 Predator is considered among actor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best films.  The subsequent sequel and “Aliens vs.” versions were considered quite a come down.  I read that when Mr. Rodriguez was first becoming a hot commodity in Hollywood, he was tasked with writing a sequel to the original Predator.  He did, but the film was never made.

Until now.

Predators, like Haywire, winds up being a pretty terrific film…until you get to the end.  Director Nimrod Antal keeps the level of tension going quite well, beginning the movie with a white knuckle sky dive sequence that immediately brought me into the film.  As we quickly find, several unsavory people were kidnapped from whatever it was they were doing.  When they awoke, the were in freefall and landed in a strange jungle.  As they would soon find, they are no longer on Earth.  They have been brought here by the Predator creatures as prey.

The movie stars Adrien Brody, on paper a seemingly unlikely choice for action star, as a silent but deadly mercenary who becomes the leader of this group of fellow kidnapped killers.  He is intent on survival but is reluctant to care for anyone in this motley group.

As I mentioned before, this film is quite terrific in the early going.  The action sequences are damn good and the interactions among the characters are reasonably strong.  Unfortunately, by the time we reach a certain “scavenger” character (I’m trying not to be too spoilery here), the movie starts to lose its steam.  Worse, the three Predator creatures our protagonists fight are gone for very long stretches of cinematic time.  Two of them wind up being dispatched waaaaaay too easily, especially considering what it took to get rid of only ONE of them in the original film.

In the end, I would cautiously recommend the film to those interested in the whole Predator genre.  This is a decent enough film that would have benefited from a stronger conclusion.

The trailer for the film, presented below, was the source of some controversy among movie goers.  At the 2:03 second mark, note how Adrien Brody’s character is “targeted” by several Predator lasers, implying that an army of those deadly beings have targeted him.  In the movie itself, there wound up being one laser targeting him.  While I don’t subscribe to the notion that theatrical trailers should give away movie plots, this particular change in what was presented in the film is quite a cheat.  Watching this trailer, you get a sense of a far bigger threat to our hero than was actually presented, and it does diminish that scene in the film.

Also released in 2010 was Robert Rodriguez’s “grindhouse” tribute Machete.  Appropriately enough, this movie began life as one of the faux movie trailers presented during the intermission of the Grindhouse double feature. A cynical person might say those trailers, and particularly the Machete trailer, were better than either Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror or Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the actual films presented in Grindhouse.

I suppose I’m just that cynic, for while both actual films had their moments, to me the most memorable material was indeed in the faux trailers, and the one I found the most humorous of them all was Machete. When the actual film version was announced, I was therefore quite curious to see it.  Thanks to home video, I finally did have the chance to do just that.

So, did Machete the movie live up to Machete the faux trailer?

Yes. And no.

The Machete trailer was filled with grindhouse-styled mayhem. There was a great mix of way-over-the-top violence, gratuitous nudity, and a tongue firmly stuck in cheek. The movie tries to stick with this formula while adhering -perhaps a little too closely- with all the scenes present in the original trailer (everything in that trailer winds up appearing in the movie, for better or worse).

What the movie adds are several famous actors, including the likes of Robert DeNiro (!), Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Steven Segal, and Jessica Alba.  There is a definite “wow” factor to seeing so many familiar faces in a movie that gleefully revels in this grindhouse atmosphere…

But what is lacking, in my opinion, is more overt humor.

Let’s face it:  Machete borders (no pun intended) on the ridiculous.  While we have plenty of bloody action and gratuitous nudity, we have a lot of tongue in cheek stuff but not nearly enough actual gags.  In fact, the movie presented only two really, really funny jokes:  The “Introducing Don Johnson” movie credit and the line delivered by Machete himself, stony faced Danny Trejo: “Machete don’t text.”

How I wish there were more examples to give!

Further, and most astonishingly, Robert DeNiro hardly registers as corrupt Senator McLaughlin.  He is given too little to do and winds up reading his lines and hitting his marks without ever rising above the material.  Steven Segal, as the movie’s big bad, is also curiously flat.  His big confrontation with Machete at the end of the film is quite ludicrous, but not for the right reasons:  We are told Mr. Segal is some expert swordsman, but during that last confrontation his level of swordplay is that of a kid playing ninja in a playground.

Having said all this, Machete is not without it’s bloody charms. To those who enjoy raunchy R-rated blood and guts, you will enjoy Machete for what it is. Others beware.