It doesn’t even matter that he’s 66 and his upper arms sag. The other is a refined, tea-and-crumpets kind of masculinity, where it’s important to know how to look comfortable in a tuxedo, to be familiar with types of fine champagne, and to develop an affinity for the opera. The interesting part is that it’s the latter one that is really misogynist.
“Machete” is Director Robert Rodriguez’ send-up of the tough guy genre, but with some of his own peculiar affinities — handsome, prosperous, and charming villains, and rough-cut, beleaguered, unglamorous heroes. Stark female nudity, so naked we realize that they are more comfortable in their own skin than we are staring at it; a certain confidence in the natural industriousness and innate perception of the common working man; remarkable because it’s a point of view practically unique in current cinema. And, not surprisingly, a discernible political point of view — that those who are clamoring about getting tough on illegal immigrants either don’t realize the inner workings of the national economy, or are so racist they actually consider other races to be inherently inferior, even subhuman, without ever using the word, fascist.
The irony is that the apparent law-abiders are actually those who exploit and oppress, while those who seem to be law-breakers are those who are simply trying to make an honest living and raise their families in peace.
In The Extra Man, no one is interested in raising a family at all. Paul Dano plays the ultimate nerd — a literature teacher who was abruptly dismissed from a rural private school because he was unguarded enough to try on a woman’s brassiere which he literally stumbled upon, just to see how it felt, and in walks the headmistress, who’s suitably chagrined enough to demand his immediate resignation.
Ah, well. He didn’t like that job much, anyway. He’d always wanted to live in New York City, and after a time of wandering aimlessly (he had some money saved from his teaching job), he answers a newspaper ad for a roommate, and winds up with Kevin Kline. He plays a very odd character; he likes classical music, he seems to have no visible means of support, he declares women to be off-limits in the entire apartment, much less for fraternizing, and even much less as overnight liaisons. In fact, Kline declares that he doesn’t want to see any women at all inside the apartment; they can’t be trusted, and they will only complicate things.
Well. Our weirdo Paul Dano is now free to pursue his unmentionable avocation as a cross-dresser. He doesn’t seem to have any particular kind of sexual proclivities, other than for the occasional random dominatrix. And only after some consternation does he eventually discover that Kline’s “other” life is to serve as a gigolo, and there is a part of him repulsed by even considering that, and a part of him fascinated with how one sets that up, exactly, and a part of him that envies the easygoing savoir faire of his would-be mentor.
Throw in a trollish-looking sidekick (John C. Reilly) and a way-too-cute-for-this-office kind of collaborative co-worker (Katie Holmes), and you have all the ingredients for a really dense relational split pea soup. At the end, we’re no really sure how it tastes, or if it has any taste at all. We just know it’s better tasted than observed.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor, Grace Church, Greenville, Texas