Class Warrior

One of the most humanist movies ever to feature such a staggeringly high body count.

Remember that crazy funny fake trailer for the fictional 70s Mexploitation flick Machete that preceded the Planet Terror segment of Grindhouse a few years back? Robert Rodriguez whipped up that two-and-a-half-minute bit of ultra-violent fluff and kept whipping, until now it's a two-hour, crazy/funny/violent Mexploitation feature that couldn't be more timely.

Oh yes, there is revolutionary rage in Machete. Here we have former Mexican federale Machete (Danny Trejo), who ran north of the border to escape the wrath of drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal). Texas is a place where good ol' boy Stillman (Don Johnson), who fancies himself a lieutenant in a vigilante border-protection scheme, and state senate candidate McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro) pick off pregnant Mexican women sneaking into Texas: A body's gots to stop those anchor babies from being born! McLaughlin is running on an “immigrants are cockroaches” platform, but a mysterious white businessman, Booth (Jeff Fahey), needs to ensure that McLaughlin doesn't win, because Texas thrives on illegal labor and that can't change.

Whew. Politicians, businessmen, drug lords: They're all the same greedy slime here. Furtively fighting them are Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who runs the Network, a sort of Underground Railroad helping illegals set themselves up in the U.S. And there's Sartana (Jessica Alba), an American customs agent who goes over to the other side. And Padr (Cheech Marin), a Catholic priest who's an activist of the old school kind — there's a refreshing nothing-sacred attitude to Machete, which is exactly the kind of eccentricity that this kind of movie demands. And there's Machete, of course, who is hired by Booth to assassinate McLaughlin but finds himself in even deeper hot water than he anticipated.

For all the over-the-top bloodshed (Machete really enjoys using his machete, as you might imagine, though he's not averse to surgical blades, automatic weapons or really anything that will kill racist, power-hungry men in a nasty way), Machete is only half tongue-in-cheek. It's all very much in the spirit of '70s blaxploitation films, fueled by the same anger and the same yearning for fairness and sympathy. It's certainly one of the most humanist movies ever to feature such a staggeringly high body count. Lots of folks will be interested in talking about Lindsay Lohan's mostly naked appearance here as Booth's drug-addicted daughter.

I hope at least some of them will also see the cry for justice.

Dreamworks Animation: The Exhibition @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 11
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Maryann Johanson

Maryann Johanson