Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Get the Gringo" (2012)

Starring Mel Gibson, Kevin Hernandez and Daniel Giminez Cacho
Written by Mel Gibson
Directed by Adrian Grunberg
Rated R - Violence, nudity, language
Running Time: 96 Minutes

'Driver' (Mel Gibson) has made off with $2 million worth of a drug lord's money.  Unfortunately, he manages to crash his car and get himself arrested by Mexican authorities.  The cops who bust him take his money and dump him in a massive prison that seems more like its own small town.  Unsure of how things work, Driver begins to get the lay of the land.  Having spent time in prisons before, he knows exactly what he needs to do: learn the social structures, figure out who's on top, and then ingratiate himself.

But this provers harder than Driver initially suspects.  To help, he partners up with young Kid (Kevin Hernandez), who he learns is very important to the prison's top dog, Javi (Daniel Giminez Cacho).  It seems that Javi has a bad liver and a very rare blood type... and Kid is a perfect match.  Javi's men protect kid at all costs, but only so that he can incubate a nice, new healthy liver for when Javi finally needs it.

On the outside, hitmen for the mob trying to track down the stolen money begin to follow a trail that will eventually lead back to Driver.  Driver knows he needs to get out of town as soon as he can, but his conscience is telling him he can't just ditch Kid and his mother (Dolores Heredia).  He'll have to use all his skills as a thief and a conman to pull off this job from the inside and get them all out free and clear.

Of late, it's become more and more difficult to enjoy a Mel Gibson film.  The man's very public disintegration into the stuff of tabloid legend makes it hard to watch his work and say, "There's a man I like."  The thing is, though, is that once you can dislodge yourself from the fact that Gibson, in reality, appears to be a drunken anti-Semite, he's still just as electric a screen presence as ever.

"Get the Gringo" is Gibson's latest attempt at something of a comeback, following the not-success of "Edge of Darkness" and "The Beaver."  I haven't seen those films, so I can't comment on their quality, but "Get the Gringo" is actually a fun, engaging action/comedy.  Gibson has real presence on the screen, the kind of dangerous-but-fun bad boy audiences loved back in the 80s is still there.  That makes it all the weirder to watch him and have a good time when so much about his public live is worthy of scorn.

The film is pretty short, running just over an hour and a half including the credits, and moves along at a brisk clip.  Gibson's character is mouthy, and delivers his narration with a wry wit.  He talks back to the other characters in a way designed to elicit responses from them, usually anger, that will allow him to take advantage of their mistakes.

The action sequences are brisk and well-shot.  There's a shootout midway through the film, out in the middle of the street in this town-prison that is totally over-the-top hilarious.  And the way it ends... I won't give it away, but I will say it involves an absurd and guffaw-inducing use of a grenade that you have to see to believe.  The opening car chase is also fun and has some cleverness.

Ultimately the story is based on Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" - Gibson is the drifter here who sets the two clans against each other.  Instead of Samurai-era Japan, the setting is translated to a Mexican prison.  The prison setting is one of the more intriguing places I've seen in a film in a long time.  It's a prison, but the inmates regularly carry guns, are able to hold down jobs and there are even stores and restaurants.  Driver's confusion and awe at the locale is translated to the audience, as I was fascinated to watch this crazy place that was supposed to be a prison but seems to grant its denizens a strange sort of freedom.

"Get the Gringo" does occasionally run into some budget limitations that can seem a little too obvious.  The climax features an assault on the prison by Mexican riot police, but their numbers seem small.  It's not the big, explosive, action-packed finale the film may promise.  It's effective, but it feels like the movie simply couldn't deliver the images it wanted to on that scale.

If you can get past your hatred for Mel Gibson, I think you'll find "Get the Gringo" is a fun, well constructed film.  It has a clever wit, some decent action set pieces, and a truly fascinating and unique setting for a film.