tale of illegal Mexican immigrants, corrupt U.S. politicians, nasty drug lords and vigilantes turns pulp movie in Robert Rodriguez's "Machete," which had the audience laughing out loud at the Venice festival.
The unlikely action hero of the blood-filled film is a long-haired, tattooed and aging former Mexican cop, nicknamed Machete after his favorite weapon -- which he uses time and again to get revenge against the killers of his family.
Set on the barren border between Texas and Mexico, Machete has an eclectic cast including Robert De Niro as an anti-immigrant U.S. senator, Jessica Alba as a law enforcement agent, veteran action film actor Steven Seagal, "Miami Vice" star Don Johnson and Lindsay Lohan.
Born and raised in Texas, Rodriguez said the idea for Machete came from a fake trailer that he inserted in his and Quentin Tarantino's tribute to B-movies, "Grindhouse," released in 2007.
"That trailer fed the audience's appetite and for years after that people asked whether I would make Machete into a feature. They kept coming and asking for it," Rodriguez said after a press screening of his film, which is being presented out of competition at the Venice festival.
Several of Rodriguez's previous films, including "El Mariachi," "Desperado" and "From Dusk Till Dawn" deal with Mexico, but he said this time he wanted to make a movie starring a Mexican action hero that could appeal to a wider audience.
"This is not just for Latinos, I wanted someone with a violent background, an incorruptible guy that would not take a step backwards, and I wanted to do something that people had not seen before" he said.
ALL ABOUT KNIVES
To play Machete, Rodriguez picked Danny Trejo, a veteran actor of Mexican descent with a criminal past who is cast here in his first starring role.
Trejo mused that his characters in previous films by Rodriguez always had something to do with sharp objects -- in From Dusk Till Dawn he was Razor Charlie, and in Desperado he was called Navajas, which means knives.
"Now I just graduated as a bigger knife which is Machete," he said.
Alba, who had already worked with Rodriguez in "Sin City," called Machete "awesome and crazy" and said at first she never thought Rodriguez would get away with such an unorthodox script.
"I think it's courageous because it talks about socially and politically relevant issues in a smart way. It has all the stigmas and the stereotypes against Latinos and mashes it all up and explodes it against the screen," she said.
"You are laughing from the beginning to the end, we are talking about serious issues but in a very clever way."
Rodriguez said he had thought about the immigration theme for the film some 15 years ago but acknowledged that "the current climate makes it feel more relevant. The timing is perfect."
The film ends with a promise of more to come, "Machete Kills" and "Machete Kills Again." Rodriguez said that is meant as a joke but added he already had enough material for at least another film.
"If people now see this and come to ask for more Machete movies, we will have to make it a reality," he said.