It would be very easy to nitpick “Gringo,” the new comedy directed by Nash Edgerton with a script from Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone. After all, plenty of scenes don’t work, there are more coincidences than one can shake a stick at, and much of the cast looks faintly bored. However, nitpicking the film in such a way is to entirely miss the fact that “Gringo” is smart enough to set up some intelligent moral conundrums for its characters and yet still punt on just about any and all decent solutions to these conundrums.
“Gringo” is one of those movies which features a good-sized cast populated with big names and famous faces and then offers said cast too little to do and only the barest elements of a story to fill what feels like a long hour and 50 minutes. David Oyelowo is the lead in the film and plays Harold, your typical nice-guy loser who is used by everyone around him from his wife, Bonnie (Thandie Newton), to his pharmaceutical company bosses, Elaine (Charlize Theron) and Rich (Joel Edgerton), who have gotten into bed with a Mexican drug dealer to help make ends meet. Then there is the sweet and wholly naïve, Sunny (Amanda Seyfried), who is being lied to by her boyfriend, Miles (Harry Treadaway), who brings her to Mexico so he can steal drugs from the pharmaceutical company’s plant there. Sharlto Copley is Mitch, Rich’s brother, a former killer who has decided to help the downtrodden and sworn off killing… except when there’s money it. Plus, Alan Ruck appears as does Kenneth Choi and more.
Oyelowo is not just the lead in the cast, he is also, by far, its funniest member (although occasionally it even feels like he goes too over the top with Harold’s foolishness). As his personal and professional life falls apart, Harold has a ridiculous idea of faking his own kidnapping in Mexico, and his entire slipshod approach is more than a little amusing. Too little of “Gringo,” however, is devoted to this story. Instead, the movie quickly shifts away to actual kidnappings and murder attempts and double-crosses and maybe even triple-crosses and… well, it just goes on and on.
Rather than investigating any issue, like Harold’s faux-kidnapping, “Gringo” constantly moves on to the next thing, discarding bits and pieces in its wake. One moment Rich and Elaine are having an affair, the next he’s wholly uninterested in her. One moment Ruck’s rival pharmaceutical boss is entirely above board, the next he isn’t. There is a cheating wife who becomes infuriated that the man with whom she’s having an affair is cheating on her in turn. Irony much?
The plot is less motivated by the characters’ natural actions based on their personalities than the characters’ actions and personalities are based upon whatever meandering road the plot decides to travel down next. The various routes it takes aren’t even all that funny. In other words, there is little point to any of it.
Beyond that it is difficult to cheer for any of the characters, save Harold, and even he occasionally is too dumb to be likable. In fact, the entire affair is too dumb to really be likable.
Up above I started by noting that “Gringo” does manage to bring about a true moral conundrum or two. In these moments it is at its absolute most interesting. One wonders exactly how someone like Mitch is going to end up making a decision about what to do and eagerly anticipates seeing the decision come forth, hoping against hope that the movie won’t let them down.
Sadly, it does let those watching down, and this is the greatest disappointment of all. There is enough talent at play here that one actually believes that the movie might bother with a worthwhile solution. As the solution the film does offer presents itself, hope evaporates, and those watching very well may feel duped.
If it was more clever or more funny or had an interesting plot, “Gringo” could be something above average. Instead, it is dull and predictable, tilting its hand too often and shying away from anything that might be seen as going too far, including a shot or two of torture.
Just as one wouldn’t want to come into contact with most of these characters in real life, the film as a whole should be avoided.
photo credit: Amazon Studios