The fury over Arizona’s new anti-illegal immigration law continues at a brisk boil, and it couldn’t come at a better time for filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. The 41-year-old Texan, himself of Mexican descent, is known for his gritty and graphically violent movies set in Mexico and featuring protagonists who seek bloody vengeance against those who have wronged them. Like his friend and collaborator Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez is a fan of the pulpy, culturally exploitive action films of the 1970s; part of the fun of Grindhouse, the double-feature he and Tarantino directed, were the over-the-top trailers for films which didn’t exist…until now, at least.
Rodriguez has now expanded one of the trailers, for a film called Machete, into a full-length feature starring Danny Trejo, a fixture in many Rodriguez movies, including the family-friendly Spy Kids series in which Trejo also played a character named Machete. I hope parents don’t confuse that Machete with this one, however, as the new “illegal” trailer makes clear (warning: NSFW language and violence). In the new film, Machete is a former Federale and migrant laborer who drifts around Texas looking for work. He is hired by a businessman (played by Jeff Fahey) to kill a corrupt senator who’s trying to kick all of the illegal immigrants out of the state. But it’s all a setup; Machete is the patsy for a deeper conspiracy to whip up anti-immigration hysteria so that tough new laws can be passed without much protest. Machete then goes on the signature Rodriguez rampage of killing bad guys and scoring with hot women. As the voiceover in the trailer says, “They just f***ed with the wrong Mexican.”
The real fun may be in seeing this movie played out against an all-too-real backdrop of anti-illegal immigrant hysteria. The senator in Machete, played by Robert DeNiro, uses rhetoric not much different from that heard by officials such as Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who warned of an epidemic of cop shootings by illegals after one of his deputies was wounded by suspected drug smugglers near the border. No evidence of such an epidemic exists — only one cop in Arizona has been killed by an illegal immigrant since 2008 — but the amplification effect of non-stop media coverage lends credibility to Babeu’s histrionics.
Then there’s the condemnation of forcibly removing illegals from the country, and the rallying of immigrants by Machete’s compadres to fight back, echoing the political and cultural backlash against Arizona’s new legislation. Even professional sports have gotten in on the act; the Phoenix Suns wore “Los Suns” jerseys on Wednesday to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and take a swipe at the immigration bill.
Whether Machete is just a Mexploitation flick using illegal immigration as a pretext for a gory revenge fantasy, or represents a deeper political statement by Rodriguez, won’t be known until the film is released in September. Of course it can be both; politics and pop culture often make strange, not to mention lucrative, bedfellows. Such is the wonder of American enterprise!