By Linc Leifeste | July 24, 2012
Director: Adrian Grunberg
Writers: Mel Gibson, Adrian Grunberg, Stacy Perskie
Starring: Mel Gibson, Peter Stormare, Dean Norris, Bob Gunton, Kevin Hernandez, Scott Cohen, Dolores Heredia, Peter Gerety, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Jesús Ochoa, Gerardo Taracena
Yes, I’m aware that Mel Gibson’s loonier than a shithouse rat. I’ve heard the audio tapes of the rants. I know. It’s been a long, drawn out and painfully public unraveling. And yes, I’m aware that his last few films have been busts (although I’ll admit to being one of the few critics I know that had good things to say about The Beaver). Still, his latest endeavor, Get the Gringo, strikes me as an odd project, if for no other reason than its complete bypass of theaters to go the VOD route on DirectTV before being released on DVD and blu-ray. I know his box-office draw is questionable, at best, but I still assume that a violent south-of-the-border prison crime drama starring Mel Gibson would be sure money in American theaters. But then what do I know about business?
As for the film itself, directed (and co-written) by first-timer Adrian Grunberg who was first assistant director on Gibson’s Apocalypto and second unit director on Edge of Darkness, it’s a mildly enjoyable if completely forgettable tale of an unnamed getaway “Driver” (Mel Gibson), a hardened American criminal who finds himself in a hellish Mexican prison, El Pueblito. In an unlikely turn of events he befriends a ten-year-old boy (Kevin Hernandez) who resides in El Pueblito with his inmate mother (Dolores Heredia) and goes on to reveal his deeply buried heart of gold while saving the boy from a horrible fate at the hands of prison crime-lord Javi (Daniel Giménez Cacho). Along the way a lot of bullets fly and Gibson takes the obligatory savage beating or two before saving the day and in the process winning the heart of the boy’s mom.
Opening with a visually stylish and intense car chase along the US side of the border, the chase ends south of the border, down Mexico way, where Driver’s large haul of stolen cash is quickly confiscated before he is thrown into El Pueblito. More an overcrowded criminal ecosystem unto itself than a prison, this is a fully functioning city with women, children, guns, drugs, restaurants, stores, apartments and more. I’m not sure how accurate the film’s rendition of the legendary Mexican prison (La Mesa State Penitentiary) is but I’ve read that Gibson and crew did their research. Either way, it’s a thrill to see Driver suddenly immersed in a bustling, violent and completely foreign world and have to painfully try to learn the ropes to survive.
Despite a promising beginning and a solid performance by Gibson (with his trademark mix of weary wisecracks and jaded tough guy flair), Get the Gringo quickly fizzles out under the pressure of tired cliches, forgettable characters, myriad subplots and uninspired writing. Beyond Driver, I found it hard to care much about the (mostly unpleasant) fates of any of the numerous characters that populate Get the Gringo. Considering that his 10-year-old sidekick’s father was murdered by Javi and the boy is destined for the same fate, it’s not a good thing that I found myself indifferent. But the preposterous subplot revolving around the boy’s suitability as a liver donor was so poorly conceived and executed that I was almost ready to give up my liver to make it all end by the time the credits rolled.