After introducing Danny Trejo's Mexican death dealer in a fake trailer for Grindhouse, movie-making desperado Robert Rodriguez cuts him loose for a full-blooded campaign of revenge. Lying low after a sneering druglord (Steven Seagal) murders his wife, former cop Machete Cortez finds more trouble over the Tex-Mex border when he is hired to kill a right-wing senator (Robert De Niro). But though the set-up is dirty, it leads straight back to his sworn enemy. It's Mexploitation gone mad as gun-toting babes (Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan) take on 80s cult icons (Seagal, Don Johnson, Jeff Fahey) in a corpse-strewn carnival of carnage.
Robert De Niro
With a face like a landslide in a granite mine, even an unarmed Danny Trejo could turn a gringo to jello at fifty paces.
But as the blade-swinging angel of vengeance Machete, he poses more danger to people's innards than a batch of undercooked burritos.
Thanks to his champion Robert Rodriguez and their trailer for a tongue-in-cheek B-movie that didn't exist, the unmistakable Trejo finally makes his bow as a leading man - in the tongue-in-cheek B-movie that now exists.
Rodriguez also takes the opportunity to promote Planet Terror editor Ethan Maniquis to co-director. But while staying in Grindhouse mode, Machete never reaches the luridly inventive highs of Rodriguez's zombiefest. That said, it's still streets ahead of Tarantino's yawnsome Death Proof.
It starts outrageously enough. The titles haven't even rolled before fearless Federale Machete has seen his partner splattered, decapitated a dozen bad guys, been betrayed by a naked beauty (who keeps a cellphone where the sun don't shine), watched Steven Seagal behead his wife, and been left for dead.
Three years later, Machete is just another illegal in a Texan border town. But while doing odd jobs for taco van owner Luz (Rodriguez), he knows she's a major player in the people-smuggling network. As does ambitious Hispanic immigration officer Sartana (Alba).
So when suited scumbag Booth (Fahey) offers him big money to shoot the anti-immigrant Senator McLaughlin (De Niro), Machete figures it can only help Luz's cause. Unfortunately, it's a set-up.
Turns out Booth works for McLaughlin and simply needs a fall guy for his popularity-boosting assassination stunt. But Machete has a habit of not dying when he's supposed to.
The phrase 'right bloody mess' doesn't begin to cover it. But unsurprisingly, Seagal's kingpin Torrez is in the thick of it.
So too are Lindsay Lohan, astutely cast as Booth's delinquent daughter (and who makes a cute nun with a gun), Don Johnson as a wetback-shooting vigilante, and Cheech Marin as a priest with a liberal attitude to the sixth commandment.
It's all good fun until someone has an eye out... which happens a lot.
Indeed, come the final showdown, nobody escapes without being hacked, skewered or blasted to pieces. One even has his intestines used as a bungee cord.
The trouble with Rodriguez is that, while full of ideas, he sometimes struggles to balance quantity with quality. For all its manic action, Machete feels strained and oddly familiar.
There's a reason why most people make trailers from finished movies and not vice versa. But please don't mention it to Mr Trejo.