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In Mexisploitation 'Machete.'

'MACHETE': Danny Trejo stars.
  • 'MACHETE': Danny Trejo stars.
You may not know his name, but Danny Trejo might have the most recognizable bad guy mug in film. With a craggy face, a perpetually furrowed brow and a handle bar mustache like an exclamation point on a steady frown, Trejo projects so much badass-ness, it's almost as if he's a cartoon — the meanest Mexican ever as drawn by Frank Miller, maybe.

They say a man gets the face he deserves at 40, and Trejo, by the time he started acting in his early 40s, did plenty to earn his. He got his first shot of heroin, he said in "Champion," the 2007 documentary about his life, when he was 12. As a teen, he got in fights, pulled robberies, scored and sold drugs and, consequently, spent much of his young life in and out of juvenile facilities and prison.

That Trejo's post-prison acting career — one of the most prolific in the industry over the last 25 years — has been mostly a string of monosyllabic tough guys is one of the central jokes in "Machete." Here he plays the inversion of that Hollywood cliche: the monosyllabic tough guy as the leading man

It's a role that grew out of a fake trailer Robert Rodriguez made for "Grindhouse," the double feature ode to '70s exploitation film that Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino released in 2007. The trailer, punctuated by Trejo's Machete flying through the air on a motorcycle while firing a Gatling gun, spelled out the plot: a tough-as-nails, ex-Federale turned day laborer takes a contract job to assassinate a politician, is double-crossed and starts a revolution on his way to exacting revenge.

The promise of that Mexploitation premise and, perhaps, the chance to do gratuitous sex and violence as farce (instead of with the veneer of earnestness Hollywood typically applies) helped Rodriguez nab an all-star supporting cast. Robert De Niro is a Texas politician trying to get re-elected on an anti-immigration platform that makes Arizona's stand look almost progressive. Despite playing a priest, Cheech Marin (a Rodriguez regular) still manages a weed gag and gets to blast a small congregation of bad guys away with two shotguns. Don Johnson, looking an awful lot like a bloated Val Kilmer, reemerges from obscurity as the leader of a border patrol itching for a race war. And speaking of bloated former stars from the '80s, Steven Seagal gamely stars as Machete's nemesis, a Mexican crime lord (with perhaps the worst accent ever committed to celluloid), who's always surrounded by a harem of nearly nude Asian girls.

Machete has his ladies, too. Michelle Rodriguez is a taco truck vendor who lives a secret life as She (pronounced to rhyme with Che), the head of an immigrant support system called the Network. Jessica Alba is a federal agent trying to get to the bottom of everything. And Lindsay Lohan, in one of the film's best gags, is drug addled want-to-be model who makes nude videos for her website; late in the film, she's forced into a nun's habit. True to the genre, Trejo, 66, beds them all.

But mostly, he kills people gruesomely. Two of my friends who came along made a bet with each other on how many people would get beheaded in the film. The one who bet 15 had lost within about 15 minutes. Around that time, Machete impaled one of his pursuers, grabbed his intestine and used it like a rope as he crashed through a window.

If that sounds like your idea of a good time at the cineplex, you're in luck. The film did well relative to its budget, and Rodriguez has promised, as long as the film made a dollar, he would make a sequel. Danny Trejo might become this generation's Charles Bronson.

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