A film review by Craig J. Koban July 30, 2012
GET THE GRINGO
2012, R, 96 mins.
2012, R, 96 mins.
Gibson: Driver / Kevin Hernandez: The Kid / Daniel Gimenez
Cacho: KIng Rat / Dolores Heredia: Kid's mom/ Peter
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.