An American Corporation, The Mexican Cartel, Chances Are This Won’t End Well.
Having gone from Ewan McGregor’s stunt double in the Star Wars prequels to a fully-fledged movie director, Gringo marks the second feature from Nash Edgerton, The Square (2008), who’s Joel Edgerton’s older brother, and probably explains how he’s been able to amass a cast of A-listers including David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton and even Sharlto Copley for his sophomore pic. If you’ve seen enough movies, though, you’re probably likely to know that a great cast doesn’t always amount to a great film. The latest dark crime-comedy Gringo, I’d say, falls somewhere in the middle, this off-kilter south-of-the-border satire struggling to find its groove, even if the final destination manages to make the trip somewhat worthwhile (only just).
Here, Nash Edgerton has his brother, Joel, play a despicable CEO named Richard Rusk, a seedy co-founder of a Chicago-based pharmaceutical company named Promethium, who’s first seen zipping up his pants after a ‘quickie’ in the office with his co-owner Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron). We promptly discover that Richard and the viperous Elaine are running a scheme that involves mass-producing an experimental marijuana pill called Cannabax at a lab in Mexico, the pair putting themselves in the perfect position to dominate the market once the drug is legalized for medicinal use in various parts of America.
Enter Nigerian-born Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), a mid-level employee at Promethium, who believes that co-president Rusk is his best bud, the guys having known each other since college. Harold, by ill luck, happens to have a lot on his plate, namely after his accountant Stu (Bashir Salahuddin) informs him that his wife, Bonnie (Thandie Newton), has been suckling their finances, making them virtually broke. When approaching his boss about his job security, Richard gives Harold some stupid allegory about a gorilla being forced to eat carrots when he wants bananas then asks him to join them on an impromptu business trip. Unbeknown to Harold, however, Richard and Elaine are in the midst of planning a merger with another big drug company, which will leave the poor guy without a job.
And so, the trio head to one of their Mexico branches to clean up their shady dealings before selling, the pair keeping the strait-laced Harold in the dark. You see, it turns out that Richard and Elaine had been offloading a large portion of Cannabax to a Mexican drug cartel to raise extra cash, problem is, now that they’ve found a partner for merger, they want it to stop. Once in the land of tequila, the plant manager, Celerino Sanchez (Hernán Mendoza), explains that the kingpin, known as Villegas/ Black Panther (no, not T’Challa), isn’t somebody Richard and Elaine can just cut off, the agitated Panther (Carlos Corona) eventually retaliating by going after the formula for the chill pill himself. Unfortunately, the cartel is under the false impression that the innocent Harold is the only person who can give it to them. Further complications arise when Harold learns that Bonnie has been cheating on him and that the merger is real, which will probably leave him jobless. Hurt and betrayed, Harold decides to strike back by pretending he’s been kidnapped in order to stooge his employers, totally unaware that the Black Panther and his goons have really targeted him, Harold going from mild-mannered citizen to wanted felon virtually overnight.
Sporting a pulpy Elmore Leonard-esque vibe, Gringo mostly takes place in the crooked streets of Mexico, with screenwriters Anthony Tambakis, Warrior (2011), and Matthew Stone, Big Trouble (2002), finding it hard to latch onto a tone, unable to successfully meld genuine drama with bloody violence and wild tomfoolery. With that said, the film’s at its best when bullets are flying and pop culture references are on point, one of its juiciest bits featuring a Quentin Tarantino-type debate that sees the ruthless Villegas argue over which Beatles album he considers to be their all-time finest.
The big-name stars certainly help elevate Tambakis and Stone’s so-so material, their screwy performances resulting in a film that’s much better than it has any right to be. Joel Edgerton, The Gift (2015), is damned right detestable as the sleazy, fat-shaming businessman Richard, while Charlize Theron, Atomic Blonde (2017), is deliciously nasty as his manipulative partner Elaine, who feels more like a sexually hostile caricature than a person. David Oyelowo, Selma (2014), who’s referred to as the ‘black gringo,’ excels as Harold, one of the flick’s only likable characters, Oyelowo pulling off an authentic-sounding Nigerian accent while having fun with Harold’s over-the-top expressions of pleasure, panic and pain.
The only other affable character is Amanda Seyfried’s thinly-written Sunny, a warm-hearted guitar shop employee who gets mixed up in the shenanigans after her boyfriend/ boss, Miles (Harry Treadaway), is talked into smuggling a couple of Cannabax pills across the boarder by his ex Nelly (Paris Jackson), the jaded musician dragging Sunny along as his cover, lying to her by telling her that they’re going on a holiday. Sharlto Copley, District 9 (2009), also plays a key role as Richard’s reformed mercenary brother Mitch, who’s brought in to retrieve Harold without costing the company too much coin, Copley adding some much needed silliness to proceedings. Only Thandie Newton is waisted as Harold’s adulterous wife Bonnie, the Westworld (2016) star reduced to a punch line and forced to wear a fat suit after things go south for the two-timer.
Given all it’s got going on, Gringo isn’t necessarily hard to follow, director Nash Edgerton keeping plot-twists sharp yet surprisingly straightforward whilst wringing solid performances out from his all-star cast. Although it runs for a moderate 110 minutes, this odd piece of pulp fiction actually feels much longer than it is, this most likely due to its overall unevenness, Gringo a semi-amusing, over-crammed and sometimes laggy affair. I dunno, I just wish I’d laughed a little more.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie