The retro summer continues with “Machete,” a funny and brutal homage to the grind house films of the 1970s born from a fake trailer in the 2007 Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature, “Grindhouse.”
Like recent release “Piranha 3D,” this is a film that takes pride in its B-movie roots - even if it tends to go a little too over the top by the time it reaches its final destination.
Danny Trejo stars as Machete, an ex-Mexican Federale now exiled in Texas who is hired by a seedy business man (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate a senator (Robert De Niro).
The job turns out to be a setup, and Machete is left for dead. Machete survives and sets out for revenge, enlisting the help of a U.S. federal agent (Jessica Alba) and another woman (Michelle Rodriguez), who operates an underground operation that helps illegal immigrants cross the Mexican border into Texas.
For the most part, this is a fun exercise in excessive violence, with Trejo doing quite well in the lead role.
But the strength of “Machete” is the deep supporting cast, which brings lots of humor and fun to the project - with De Niro, Fahey, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson and even Lindsay Lohan all giving performances that never take themselves or the material too seriously.
Perhaps it’s because this is the third film of its kind in less than a month, but I will admit “Machete” kind of wore me down after awhile - the simple premise was stretched way longer than it needed to be. By the time Lohan slips into a nun’s outfit, toting a pair of handguns and blasting away, I was just ready to get to the final credits (although I’m not knocking the great setup to get to that scene).
It’s just a case of excessiveness and overkill, although there is still enough for hardcore action fans to come away satisfied.
DVD dud of the week
It’s a thin week for DVD picks, with lots of mediocre fare - or worse - hitting the shelves. The summer flop “Killers” (D) starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl may well be the standout of the current releases, although not for good reasons.
This would-be action romantic comedy is a mess of a film, with no chemistry between its leads and a plot that lacks focus or direction.
Heigl stars as Jen, a woman just out of a bad relationship who is kept in check by her overbearing parents (Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara).
Jen goes on vacation with her parents to France and meets Spencer (Kutcher), a mysterious but very attractive man who sweeps her off her feet, leading to a quick marriage.
A few years pass and the couple are happily living the American dream. Everything changes when Spencer’s past life as a government assassin catches up with him and a hit is put out on him, leaving Spencer and Jen on the run for their lives.
The man-of-my-dreams-who-turns-out-to-be-something-else premise isn’t new. It’s even the basis for a similar film to another summer disappointment, “Knight and Day,” starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. In the hands of screenwriters Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin and director Robert Luketic, “Killers” doesn’t just feel like a retread of other films, it feels like a first draft with scattershot ideas that shouldn’t have made it to the final cut.
I’m sure it seemed like a good idea to have neighbors turn out to be hired assassins who have secretly been waiting for the moment to strike, but by the time it is revealed who is behind it all (and trust me, you will see it coming) it feels like one big episode of “Punk’d” - with me half expecting everyone to turn to the camera and let everyone in on the joke that this isn’t really a movie.
Perhaps in that setting Kutcher would be more acceptable, although he isn’t bad here. The bigger problem is Heigl, who continues to plunge her career deeper and deeper into an abyss of junk after showing such promise in “Knocked Up.”
There are so many problems with her performance - and it’s essentially nothing more than an extension of the same character she played in last summer’s comedy “The Ugly Truth.” As with that character, the audience is asked to believe Heigl is romantically challenged and she’s just too attractive and not talented enough to pull that off.
The usually reliable Selleck and O’Hara try to provide support, but they are saddled with one-note characters who are just as uninteresting as everyone else.
The result is a film that should have been whacked early in the development stages.
“Killers” is rated PG-13 for violent action, sexual material and language and is now available on DVD.