By Jim Slotek
A shambling family-affair directed by Nash Edgerton and co-starring his more famous brother Joel, Gringo is one of those high-speed, series-of-coincidence caper films that sails by on ironic humour and caricatures.
The overly complicated plot involves an immoral, narcissistic pharma CEO named Richard (Joel Edgerton) who’s trying to get even richer via a merger, but who must first clean house with the Mexican drug cartel he’s been selling to on the side.
Said scheme involves setting up as a patsy an African immigrant middle manager named Harold (Selma’s David Oyelowo), and a trip to Mexico with Elaine, Richard’s mean-girl, icy-blonde VP and mistress (Charlize Theron, who also produced this).
At issue (I think) is a cannabis pill that the company has been developing in anticipation of mass legalization. At least that’s the reason that a guitar shop manager (Harry Treadaway) and his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) are also heading to Mexico, where he’s expected to act as a mule for the smuggled cannabis pill formula.
Richard’s intentions, on the other hand, evolve as the nearly two-hour movie goes on. Initially, his plan is to cut off drug shipments to the El Chapo-like cartel boss, the Black Panther (Carlos Corona). Yes, the Black Panther. Does nobody read studio release schedules? (A quirky bad-hombre indeed, his trademark is asking a series of Beatles questions that determine the fate of those who cross him.)
And since the CEO of the Black Panther’s supplier will undoubtedly be killed in retaliation, who better to pass off in that capacity than Harold? (As a bonus, the company has a life insurance policy on its employees that pays, um, the company, $5 million in case of death).
And I’ve barely scratched the surface in this character-larded plot. There’s Richard’s brother (Sharlto Copley), a mercenary assigned to finish the job on Harold, Harold’s unfaithful wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton), a pair of Mexican brothers/hotel managers (Diego Cataño and Rodrigo Corea) who seek to cash in the bounty on Harold, the CEO of the potential merger company (Alan Ruck) and an undercover DEA agent.
Whew! Happily, Gringo moves at a fast-enough pace to distract you from a plot that, for the most part, makes no sense. There are car chases, car crashes (Harold manages to crawl out of the wreckage of more than one), gun battles and gruesome interludes. And it all takes place in the heat of Mexico, which isn’t a bad thing to be watching as our brutal winter crawls to a close.
The comedy is arch and usually ironic. When Elaine — who has the crudest lines — finds out that Bonnie once weighed 50 pounds more, she chortles, “Fat people are funny!” Which isn’t so funny in print but frames her character’s cruelty nicely. And there are running gags about gorilla behaviour experiments, carrots, and bananas that somehow insinuate themselves into the plot.
Meanwhile, Oyelowo’s Harold is the closest thing the movie has to a flesh-and-blood character. He is a hero worth rooting for, as he goes (partly by accident) from compliant corporate pawn to the master of his own destiny. It’s an over-the-top performance to be sure, with lots of eye-rolling and pleading for his life. But compared to the others on display, it’s practically subtle.
Gringo. Directed by Nash Edgerton. Starring David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried and Thandie Newton. Opens wide March 9.