A film review by Craig J. Koban July 30, 2012


2012, R, 96 mins.


Mel Gibson: Driver / Kevin Hernandez: The Kid / Daniel Gimenez Cacho: KIng Rat / Dolores Heredia: Kid's mom/  Peter Stormare: Frank

Directed by Adrian Grunberg / Written by Grunberg, Mel Gibson, Stacy Perskie

Considering the type of trouble that Mel Gibson has very publicly found himself in lately Ė DUI arrests, anti-Semitic declarations, demonically enraged answering machine messages, spousal battery charges, etc. Ė itís safe to assume that the once prominent actor wants to return to his performance roots and get people to remember him as the gritty action star of old.  

GET THE GRINGO is such a film that allows that, which unapologetically showcases ĎMad Melí in the quintessential Gibsonian role Ė a deeply flawed, morally bankrupt, vengeance driven, and tough as nails SOB that takes crap from no one that, deep down, is a likeable bloke with a modest heart of gold.  Gibson can play these grizzled and battle hardened roles in his sleep, but part of the fun of GET THE GRINGO is to see him sink his teeth back into them with gnarly and macho relish. 

The ultimate problem, though, with the film is that I never gained a real impression of what type of overall tone it was trying to adhere to.  On one level, itís a pure exploitation grindhouse revenge flick, but it then careens down other tangents, like being a would-be high minded and self-aware satire alongside a cornball and over-the-top action-comedy morphed with a prison flick.  GET THE GRINGO seems to lack an overall cohesiveness of vision, not to mention that it reminds viewers of many other countless Ė and better Ė revenge and prison genre films that came before it.  Furthermore, the film bares a striking similarity to Gibsonís own PAYBACK from 1999 in terms of it having a violent, but agreeable criminal that features dry comedy mixed with blood curdling violence, which leaves GET THE GRINGO having a dismissible been-there, done-that aura. 

In the film Gibson portrays a man named Driver (not to be confused with Ryan Goslingís character in DRIVE), a wise-assed former military man turned career crook that is speeding away from the police near the Mexican border with a partner in tow bleeding to death (they are wearing clown costumes, which is never explained beyond it hopefully establishing a dark and absurdly funny undercurrent to the film which feels more than a bit strained).  During this fairly exciting introductory sequence, Driver manages to careen right through the border fence and lands in Mexico, where he is greeted by obligatory vile and unethical Mexican cops that arrest him and steal his bag of stolen cash.  The loot, in turn, belongs to a gangster named Frank (Peter Stormare).  



The Mexican officers take Driver and hold him in custody at Tijuanaís infamous El Pueblito prison, which is clearly no ordinary prison: itís less a correctional facility than it is a little city where prisoners are able to go where they please, carry weapons, run their own little side businesses, and have friends and families come and go to visit at their leisure.  Drugs are not only sold, but widely available, kids litter the streets, and, hell, the prison even has its own tattoo and taco stands.  Driver, although initially miffed by being apprehended, seems to be quite surprised by his relative freedom to go wherever he likes while in the prison (ďIs this a prison or the worldís shittiest mall?Ē he deadpans in one of the filmís slyer moments). Nonetheless, the prison is a very tough and mean joint to live in, especially if youíre one of the only white Americanís in it.  Realizing that heíll have to ally himself with someone in order to have a fighting chance to stay alive, Driver initially seeks out Javi, a.k.a. King Rat (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), one of the prisonís more powerful criminals.  Along the way, Driver hooks up with a 10-year-old cigarette-smoking sidekick, of sorts (a very good Kevin Hernandez) who tries to keep Driver aware of the comings and goings of the prison and how not to get killed.  

The film then gets sort of needlessly convoluted: Driver finds himself getting involved deeper with 'The Kid' when itís revealed that King Rat killed his father and uses his mother (Delores Heredia) as a whore.  Then, to make matters even more preposterous and tough to swallow, there is a truly crazy subplot involving King Ratís need to have the Kidís liver and holding him hostage as a forced liver donor at a future time, which culminates in a climax that canít really seem to decide if itís funny or macabre.  One thing is for certain: ĎMad Melí ainít letting no two-timing criminal steal a boyís liver.  Not on his watch. 

GET THE GRINGO was directed with relative competence by Adrian Grunberg (who was a first assistant director on Gibsonís APOCALYPTO) and one thing that he and his cinematographer (Benoit Debie) do well is to make the prison itself a character in the film.   The film is sort of beautifully grimy and ugly to look at, which is the intention of effectively making the prison look like a tangibly inhospitable shithole.  GET THE GRINGO is a triumph of production design: the prison was recreated by filming in a shutdown penitentiary in Veracruz and the film evocatively captures how such a mass of grungy humanity (apparently 5-6000 in El Pueblito before it closed down in 2002) managed to populate such a facility.  The filmís visual squalor is always credible.  

Itís just a shame that I did not buy into its underlining story as much (which was co-written by Gibson himself).  The concept of a deeply introverted, cynical and rugged anti-hero seeking revenge on prison officials and corrupt cops for taking his stashed money is not very innovative material in the slightest.  The filmís style of handling its artery-spewing violence evokes an in-your-face aesthetic of a Peckinpah or the Spaghetti Western trappings of a Leone, but blending itís gore and mayhem with a sometimes smugly see-how-funny-Driver-is-in-the-face-of-danger voiceover track by Gibson makes GET THE GRINGO feel all the more tonally schizophrenic; sometimes, the film mistakes being erratic and chaotic for audience-acknowledging wink-wink cleverness. 

Originally having the better title HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION, GET THE GRINGOís release history is almost more compelling than the film itself.  It had a very, very sparse and short-lived theatrical life and then went on to appear exclusively on video-on-demand, which Gibson has publicly admitted was done because he believes more people prefer to watch movies at home.   As a strong directorial mind in his own right with films like BRAVEHEART and APOCALYPTO that demanded giant and enveloping screens, Iím not so sure that Gibson feels that the experience of seeing a film properly in a large cinema is as dead and/or redundant as he declares it is.  If anything, his comments seem to be an excuse to argue around GET THE GRINGOís relative unevenness as a final product worthy of a silver screen release.  Watching Gibson juicily chew scenery here is fun and the film looks sensational, but GET THE GRINGO ultimately reminds us of the type of finer action thrillers that its gravel voiced star populated beforehand.

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