I’m a little concerned. Robert Rodriguez, that indie wonder kid, best buds with Quentin Tarantino and director of such classics as Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn and Sin City, has been making more of a name for himself lately as the poster boy for the grindhouse genre. Tarantino was wise to just dip his toe in it before delivering the double whammy of Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. Yet the imminent arrival of the hotly anticipated Sin City: A Dame To Kill For has been slightly wilted by Rodriguez’s z-grade obsession … which going by the reviews, got old very quickly.
This follow-up to the movie inspired by a trailer in the middle of that Grindhouse double feature calamity, finds hulking Mexican for hire Danny Trejo as bounty hunter and former marshal ‘Machete’ who gets hired by the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen … er, yes) to bring down a crime lord who is threatening to send a missile to nuke Washington. Yeah it’s stupid and it’s the sort of plot you’d find in an 80’s TV show or some movie in a flea pit of a cinema that had run out of porn … but it’s a concept, played fully tongue-in-cheek that makes for highly entertaining tosh.
Rodriguez clearly loves the material and although it lacks some of the sucker-punch moments of the previous one it still had enough comical ideas (the speeder from Star Wars, ‘Machete don’t tweet’…) that bored is not something I could be. Co-starring a cast you almost have to read twice to believe, yes Sheen as well as Cuba Gooding Jnr, Michelle Rodriguez, Lady GaGa (!) and even Mel Gibson – this could have been a riot. Yet due to that intentional grindhouse style, its all done badly; the acting is only passable (although Gibson is great) and the effects, stunts and even the gore are amateurish (with a surprising lack of nudity). Yeah I get it, it’s all part of the joke … but does detract from some of the movie’s bigger moments.
One to watch with beer, friends and your brain on auto-pilot. Is it wrong I actually want to see ‘Machete Kills again – in space’ ??
This epic gangster tale follows the true story of small time Harlem gangster Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) who during the 70s lead the market in drug trafficking in New York, soon becoming more wealthy and respected than even the Mafia. Hot on his heels is Russell Crowe as Richie Roberts, one of the few remaining incorruptible Cops in New York who finds himself battling the drug dealers and his fellow cops too ready to take payment and turn a blind eye.
Although rather complex (and at times a little vague with the details), this atmospheric movie still pulled me in with Denzel’s as expected power-house performance as the charismatic Frank Lucas, as well as Crowe’s surprisingly softer edged Richie proving he doesn’t need to play hard men to deliver the goods.
Even though director Ridley Scott is not normally the person I would associate with this sort of story (that honour would normally go to Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee), I am happy to report that he has made an intelligent and gripping film that is shot through with his usual superb attention to detail (New York is transformed wonderfully into the 70s and you don’t doubt it for a second). Saying that, I feel that like Scorsese’s Goodfellas / Casino the film would have benefited from a voice over (probably from Crowe’s character). Also for this material the film is pretty tame when it comes to violence, although still disturbing during its drug taking sequences and the fact Lucas smuggled back heroine in dead Marines coffins. Shudder. Also some of the other characters are a little wafer thin, especially Cuba Gooding Jnr’s rival gangster whose presence brings little to proceedings, verging on the pointless.
Overall though, this is well worth your time and proves once again that Denzel Washington is one of the best around and Ridley Scott just doesn’t know how to make a bad film, even if he isn’t quite the master of the gangster pic just yet.
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