A film about Judge Clark Douglas' summer would feature many scenes involving paperwork.
The odds are against him. So is everyone else.
"Stop bleeding on my money."
Facts of the Case
Driver (Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon) is an American career criminal who has just stolen approximately two million dollars. Alas, his getaway is foiled by some members of the Mexican Border Patrol, who quickly proceed to take the money for themselves and lock Driver away in a Mexican prison. Not just any prison, mind you: Driver is sent to El Peublito, a sprawling enclosed city of sorts that has established its own seedy economy. Driver is determined to get his money back, but doing that is going to require some intense planning. During this process, Driver finds himself taking a 10-year-old kid (Kevin Hernandez, The Sitter) under his wing.
The Mel Gibson vehicle Get the Gringo was originally titled How I Spent My Summer Vacation, which is a more accurate indicator of the film's generally smarmy tone. Gibson co-wrote the screenplay with director Adrian Grunberg, and returns to the sort of role he probably should have re-embraced a long time ago. For the most part, the vengeful outrage and wounded misery that have defined most of Gibson's recent work have been set aside. This time around, the actor is caustically funny and world-weary in a part that rather explicitly recalls his entertainingly hard-boiled turn in Payback (in both cases, he's just a bad guy who wants some really bad guys to return his money). The movie surrounding the performance is pretty flimsy, but Gibson's efforts are ultimately enough to carry Get the Gringo to the finish line.
The film's opening first half is the shakier one, as it spends a good deal of time on the Indy/Short Round-esque relationship between Gibson and the kid (who is simply referred to as Kid in the film's end credits, just as Gibson is referred to as Driver—perhaps an unintentional indicator of the fact that these are basic character types rather than particularly original creations). The relationship has its nice moments, but it tries a little too hard to use gritty material to shade the subplot's fundamental sweetness (the kid unleashes some R-rated profanity, Gibson gives the kid cigarettes and the two of them engage in some fairly graphic conversations about the most effective ways to kill people). It's meant to be shockingly non-PC stuff, but it mostly feels like winking contrivance.
Fortunately, that relationship is placed on the back burner during the film's second half, which focuses on Gibson's master plan to get his money back. Despite a handful of blustery, well-crafted action sequences (Grunberg—who is making his directorial debut—clearly learned a few things while he was serving as first assistant director on films like Apocalypto and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), Gibson's plan relies more on clever con games than explosions. It's in this stretch of the film that we get treats like the scene in which Gibson uses a stellar Clint Eastwood impression to trick a powerful businessman into a dangerous situation. Even better: Gibson doesn't impersonate the gravelly, hard-boiled Eastwood of the Dirty Harry movies, but rather the more genial, soft-spoken Eastwood of behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Another element that helps the film succeed is the prison itself, a distinctive creation that doesn't borrow too heavily from other cinematic "prison cities." It's clear that a good deal of thought went into the construction of this place, and Gibson's snappy narration does a fine job of quickly filling us on the details (even if a few of the one-liners are painfully clunky: "Who's that guy in the bathrobe? He must be El Hefner."). A handful of memorable supporting players (Peter Stormare, Bob Gunton, Daniel Giminez Cacho, Gerardo Taracena, Peter Gerety) operating inside and outside the prison cheerfully embrace the film's scuzzy spirit and do solid work. At a glance, the film might look like yet another Grindhouse wannabe, but Get the Gringo proved more sincere about its story and characters than I expected it to be.
Get the Gringo (Blu-ray) offers an exceptional 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that does a nice job of highlighting the ravaged-yet-attractive Mexican locations. It's a shame the film went the Video On Demand route, as a proper theatrical release would have given viewers a better chance to appreciate its sprawling cinematography and impressive action sequences. Still, it looks quite strong on home video and offers superb detail throughout. Depth is impressive and blacks are satisfyingly inky. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is also stellar, with the louder sequences managing to stir up a considerable ruckus. The mix is consistently immersive and large, but none of the dialogue is ever overwhelmed by the busy sound design. Antonio Pinto's frisky score comes through with vigorous energy, too. Supplements are a little thin, unfortunately. You get an 18-minute "Get the Gringo: A Look Inside" featurette, three all-too-short 4-minute featurettes focusing on different scenes in the film ("The Car Chase," "The Showdown" and "The Raid") and a music video.
In a moment of self-awareness towards the end of Get the Gringo, Gibson wearily admits that a guy like him probably has some nasty karmic comeuppance just around the corner. However, he's not going to let that stop him from living. "#&%! it. I'm gonna enjoy the rest of my summer," he chuckles. There's no telling what new drama may unfold in terms of Gibson's turbulent personal life. Still, it's probably best to focus on the present and the pertinent: the quality of the work. Get the Gringo is a minor effort that nonetheless represents an appealing change-of-pace for Gibson as an actor; it's an entertaining diversion that should please those who miss the Gibson of Lethal Weapon and Payback.
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