A Mexican Fed named Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) and his partner open the film on a mission to find and rescue a kidnapped girl. In the process, Machete finds himself with a dead partner, a knife to the leg (compliments of the kidnapped girl), and betrayed by his chief to Rogelio Torrez (Steven Seagal); a powerful drug lord who, let's just say, has it in for Machete and his family. Fast-forwarding three years, Machete finds himself alone, down on his luck, and managing to get by with landscaping work.
Machete is approached by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) who explains that Texas State Senator, John McLaughlin (Robert De Nero) is threatening to cut down on the number of laborers by sending illegal immigrants out of the country. He then offers Machete a fine choice between $150,000 for the assassination of McLaughlin, or death - a reluctant Machete accepts the former. Soon enough, the assassination attempt turns into a setup, and Machete finds himself as the subject of a conspiracy that caters to McLaughlin's strong stance on illegal immigration.
In the meantime, Agent Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba), a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, is sent to find and capture Machete. However, long story short, she finds herself in the middle of things, torn between sticking up for her brothers and sisters and doing what she has been hired to do. During all of this, Machete teams up with a taco truck waitress, Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and a priest named Padre (Cheech Marin) to seek revenge on Booth, who set him up. So it's a pretty basic revenge film that takes the whole illegal immigration scenario to an extreme, and as a Grindhouse film, it pretty well does the job.
This is the first of the Grindhouse fake trailers to eventually become a real movie, and being that it was also directed by Robert Rodriguez (along with 'Planet Terror') you definitely get the wonderous "dude porn" he's so well known for (in other words, his movies are incredibly "manly"). I have to admit that I'm a bit of a sucker for his movies, as sometimes, speaking as a guy, sometimes we just need that no-brain adrenaline full of explosions, violence, and sexy but totally badass women - something found in the characters themselves as opposed to them just being eye candy. These Grindhouse movies are all pretty solid for these reasons, but this is probably one of the better of them.
This also serves a a good fan service film for Rodriguez fans. Danny Trejo is the lead, sure, but further cameos pop up from some of our Rodriguez film favourites like Tom Savini, and to a lesser extent, an uncredited Rose McGowan (whose scenes were sadly deleted). But if you're a Rodriguez fan, and appreciate his slant towards a bit more of the hardcore, then this movie works out pretty damn well. One could even say this is as much a look into his basic formulas of filmmaking much like 'Death Proof' could be seen for Tarantino fans (although this was much more fun).
In the weird world we live in nowadays, I might suggest this as being a step forward in film, even if it's going somewhat backwards. We're so dead set on our mainstream 80s and 90s nostalgia, but there's definitely an audience for the more hardcore movie-makers out there like Rodriguez, Tarantino, Roth, Zombie, hell, even my hero Edgar Wright puts some extremities in his "Cornetto Trilogy". So I have to admit that I'm certainly a part of that cult, albeit perhaps on the lighter side (Zombie and Roth films are just too torturous for my taste).
I might go so far as to say 'Machete' represents the Grindhouse movie series at its peak. The next film, 'Hobo with a Shotgun' wasn't quite as well received, nor was it quite as fun as the first three. Then 'Machete Kills' seemed to have put the nail in the coffin, but more on those titles soon enough. As for 'Machete', I highly recommend it to the hardcore fans of Robert Rodriguez, and might suggest any fan of that particular cult of directors might have fun with it. However, it's important to keep in mind that there's a few extremities to this as a Grindhouse film, so it simply won't be for everyone. I have fun with it, but it also touches on some pretty controversial subject matter for this day and age. So nowadays, there's basically gonna be offended people, or people who get way too into it - but then, I suppose that's a grindhouse flick doing its job...