How many times did Danny Trejo play "the mean Chicano dude with tattoos" on TV and movies? Every time. He's fine with it. That is, after all, part of his life story. With more than 380 credits under his belt, Trejo labored in relative obscurity by Hollywood standards for decades before he seemed to suddenly become a hot commodity and a household name through the likes of Spy Kids, Breaking Bad, Machete and Sling commercials.
The fodder for "Inmate #1" comes from the youth that shaped him—including years in California's infamous gladiator school prisons like San Quentin and Soledad where he picked up his famous chest tattoo—as well as the story of his rise to stardom.
The man who first used heroin at the age of 12 later held the title of boxing champion for three years running at San Quentin starting in 1966. He got sober after prison and become a drug counselor, a job that he says led him to a movie set years later when a friend there was having a moment of temptation.
The pace of this story hardly matches the action he's seen on and off screen, but the photos of Chicano life in Pacoima in the 1950s alone are a great reason for director Brett Harvey to spend so much time on the early part of Trejo's life. Notably absent, however, is any mention of the mother(s) of Trejo's three children. They do appear in the documentary, mostly retelling stories their father told them rather than divulging details or descriptions only they could have offered. Still, it's fun to hear director Robert Rodriguez explain how Machete went from a fake "Mexploitation" trailer in another movie to its own full length feature with Trejo as number one on the call sheet.
Though a dour expression on a creased face is his signature look, the candid footage of Trejo's repeated laughter captivates as he seems to enjoy the telling. And makes us enjoy it too.
+Machete has layers like an onion
-Slow pace, too little on filmography
Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo
Directed by Harvey
Amazon Prime, NR, 107 min.