Danny Trejo brings tough guy persona to ‘Machete'

In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, Danny Trejo stars as a legendary ex-Federale in a scene from, "Machete." (AP)

Published: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 12:22 p.m.

Danny Trejo is a real-life tough guy.


Nate rates it:

“Machete” - Rent It
“Desperado” - Buy It
“Spy Kids” - Buy It
“Sherrybaby” - Rent It

Rating key
Buy It - worth adding to your personal collection
Rent It - worth paying money to watch
Watch It — worth watching for free
Skip It — not worth watching at all

New DVD releases:
“The Last Exorcism”
A horror movie about a priest's battle with a rural, possessed girl. Done in the “found footage” style of being a supposed documentary.
“Dinner for Schmucks”
Paul Rudd and Steve Carell star in this hit comedy about a monthly dinner in which yuppie executives compete to see who can find the biggest idiot to mock. Co-stars Zack Galifianakis and Ron Livingston.
“Case 39”
Renée Zellweger stars in this horror thriller as a social worker who takes charge of an abused child who may or may not be evil incarnate. Bradley Cooper and Ian McShane join in the ghoulish fun.
Is it a documentary or is it all staged? A long-distance, online relationship leads to a cross-country road trip and a surprising twist at the end.
James Franco plays beat poet Allen Ginsberg in this indie-hit that blends non-fiction, poetry, live action and animation in a kinetic film about an Americvan counter-culture icon.

He's an ex-con, ex-heroin addict, ex-robber and ex-boxer. He was boxing champion of his prison, no less. Then he gets clean, gets his act together and decides to get into the movie business.

He worked his way up from the very bottom — he was an extra, a scene-filler for movies about prison or crime. And then he started getting a few lines here and there. Whenever he had a scene, Trejo made an impression, and then he slowly started working his way up.

After 25 years as an actor, Trejo finally is the star of his own movie — “Machete,” which is newly arrived on DVD and Blu Ray. What a long, strange trip it's been. Spawned from the (then) fake movie trailer of the same name in “Grindhouse,” this is a bloody action/revenge movie, a love letter to exploitation films in which Machete leaves a trail of dead bad guys and satisfied women in his wake.

Machete Cortez is a former Mexican federale on the skids who is hired by a shady Jeff Fahey to assassinate Senator Robert De Niro, a politician campaigning on an anti-immigration platform. But the whole thing is a set-up, and Machete is used as a Latino fall-guy to benefit the campaign.

Machete, as you might have guessed by the muscles, tattoos and abundance of knives, does not play that. His quest for revenge brings him up against De Niro, Fahey, Don Johnson, a resplendent Steven Seagal and about 400 armed baddies. He also crosses paths with underground revolutionary Michelle Rodriguez and federal agent Jessica Alba, lures his priest-brother Cheech Marin back into a life of violence and inspires an uprising.

For a man of few words, Machete gets a lot accomplished in two hours.

“Machete” was directed by Robert Rodriguez, one of the directors who really helped Trejo establish himself over the years. After “Desperado” (see below), the two collaborated on “Spy Kids,” “From Dusk Til Dawn,” “Once upon a Time in Mexico” and “Predators.” Rodriguez always embraces humor and over-the-top action and violence, and in “Machete” he really pushes everything to the limit.

This is a movie that has no time for plausibility — it is a pure-blood exploitation flick, made with boundless energy and a love of cheesy movies. Thus, “Machete” exceeds at delivering exactly what it promises. The only time the movie stumbles is when it tries to bring in too much story; there are a couple of subplots that get a little dull in that they take time away from the mayhem.

But this is a minor quibble against a movie that is big-time fun to watch.

The best of

Danny Trejo

“SPY KIDS” SERIES: Before he was the ultra-violent Machete Cortez in “Machete,” Trejo was the brilliant and gentle Uncle Machete Cortez in the “Spy Kids” franchise. He is, for all intents and purposes, the same guy, only much more mellowed out and a high-tech super-genius. Perhaps these movies take place in the future, long after the spilled blood of “Machete” has dried.

“ANCHORMAN”: He only has one scene — as a bartender — but every time I watch the movie it's a great moment that cracks me up. As big and tough as this guy is, he's got a natural gift for comedy.

“DESPERADO”: He's a silent assassin stalking the streets armed with throwing knives, a scowl and pay-phone money. Without speaking a word, Trejo used this movie to establish himself as a premiere movie villain. If he isn't starring in “Expendables 2” next year, it will be a travesty.

“BREAKING BAD”: Trejo also does a lot of TV work, having appeared on “Burn Notice,” “King of the Hill,” “Modern Family” and “The Young and the Restless” of all things. But one notable, offbeat role for the small screen had him playing the lazy drug informant Tortuga in an otherwise heavy-duty drug drama.

“SHERRYBABY”: He can do action and comedy, but this movie shows that Trejo has dramatic depth. Drawing on his personal experience, he simply shines in a supporting role as Dean, a recovering addict who helps star Maggie Gyllenhaal deal with her heroin addiction. This is a markedly different role then Trejo usually plays, which is too bad because the guy can do incredible work in such quiet, character-driven films.

“Machete” kicks off what could be the Year of Trejo: The hardest working man in show business has no less than seven movies coming out in 2011, and maybe as many as 10. The next one, “Death Race 2,” hits in two weeks.

Contact Nate Hensley at

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top