Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Feliz Cinco de Mayo from Robert Rodriguez

You've got to love Robert Rodriguez. Today, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, a sort of de facto Mexican pride day in the U.S. that's pretty much used as an excuse to drink margaritas, he debuted the new red-band trailer for his upcoming action film "Machete" with a special holiday message for the state of Arizona. The hero, a Mexican-American badass who shares the same name as his favorite weapon, has learned about the new immigration law and he's not happy. Cue over-the-top violence, choice profanity, and machismo by the metric ton, as we're treated to a glimpse of the coming retaliation. The message couldn't be clearer, but Rodriguez lays it out for us anyway: "We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!"

Before we go any further, I fully appreciate that the immigration issue is difficult and complicated, and both sides have valid concerns. The implications of the new law's effects are no laughing matter, and I understand why some audience members might be sensitive to the portrayals of the various players in "Machete." But at the same time, who could resist such a shameless exploitation movie where a man of dubious immigration status has been pushed to the edge, and is ready to unleash his machete-wielding fury upon those who have wronged him, including a couple of casually racist anti-immigration extremists? I imagine anyone who's had to endure dirty looks and extra scrutiny at a border checkpoint or airport screening should get a lot of catharsis out of this one. And it puts me a rare state of glee to see Rodriguez, really our only major Latino filmmaker, tackle the issue head-on with all the subtlety of, well, a machete.

The film has actually been finished for a while, and wasn't picked up for distribution by FOX until January, when Rodriguez also clinched a production deal with them. It's purely lucky timing that the controversy over the Arizona immigration law should have erupted now. The first "Machete" trailer, you may remember, was the fake one that played with the "Grindhouse" double-feature that Rodriguez did with Quentin Tarantino a few years back. Thus, we may consider "Machete" a semi-sequel of sorts, with the same gritty B-movie sensibility and taste for wild extremes. The cast includes Danny Trejo as Machete, Cheech Marin as a shotgun-wielding Catholic priest, Steven Seagal as a sneering drug lord, Robert DeNiro as a political fat cat, Don Johnson and Jessica Alba as immigration agents, and Lindsay Lohan in a nun's habit.

I have no doubt that this movie will clean up at the box office and spark plenty of controversy in the process. One should keep in mind that Latinos are by far the most underrepresented ethnic group in the American media. According to the statistics on Latino Review, a Latino-run film website, despite having 12% of the United States population (and growing rapidly), Latinos make up only 2% of all the characters that appear in films and on television. Yet they also disproportionately account for 15% of theater admissions. I think Hollywood could use a little reminder of this more often.

The new Arizona law is due to go into effect in August. "Machete" sees general release in September.

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