Gringo and all the images you see in this review are owned by Amazon Studios and STX Entertainment
Directed by Nash Edgerton
Hey, if Netflix is gonna try to produce feature films, then why not Amazon too!? Heck, they’ve had a pretty good track record with distributing films like The Handmaiden and The Big Sick, and some of the original programming on their video service has been pretty decent too! Hopefully they can translate that success into this wacky comedy which has a PRETTY good trailer but not a whole lot of buzz, though it’s not entirely their fault considering how much Black Panther and even A Wrinkle in Time have dominated the national discussion around film; leaving films like this to just kinda slink in wherever they can. Does Amazon have a great film on their hands that’s unjustly falling under the radar, or should they have sent this straight to their storefront where no one will ever actually buy it? Let’s find out!!
Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) is a well to do middle management corporate drone who is incredibly content with his current life living with his wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton) and working for Richard and Elaine (Joel Edgerton and Charlize Theron) at a pharmaceutical company he very much likes. The problem is that at every turn, the people in his life continually disrespect him and see him less as a valuable asset and friend, and more of an errand boy that also functions as a doormat. Eventually Harold gets wise to this during a trip that he along with Richard and Elaine take to Mexico in order to inspect one of the facilities, and the straw that breaks the camel’s back comes when Bonnie decides to divorce him; something that she tells him over skype. Having something of a nervous breakdown, Harold takes a bus to a small town in Mexico and fakes his own kidnapping once Richard and Elaine are back in Chicago. Little does Harold know however that the Cartel is after him due to his connection to the pharmaceutical company, so his little ruse might turn out to be more of a prophecy! On top of that, we’ve got a couple trying to sneak drugs from Mexico back to the US (Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway), a mercenary who may be able to get Harold out of the jam he’s in (Sharlto Copley), and like four other subplots that are going on at the same time as Harold’s misadventures in Mexico. Will Harold be able to bilk his employers out of a crap load of money before he gets captured by the Cartel? What was Richard and Elaine doing that got the eye of the Cartel in the first place, and what will they do to get Harold out of the mess he’s in? Most importantly, HOW DID THEY MANAGE TO MAKE A STORY LIKE THIS SO BORING!?
I was NOT prepared to hate this movie as much as I did when I walked into it, but this was a MISERABLE misfire of a movie that feels like a salvage job off of a shoot that simply did not come together; not too far off from The Snowman, but even THIS manages to at least be somewhat competent in certain areas. The film isn’t BROKEN I guess as what they managed to stitch together is more or less coherent, but it’s still an utter slog to get through with some of the most turgid pacing I’ve ever seen in something that I GUESS is supposed to be a comedy. It’s like the filmmakers saw one too many Coen Brothers movies (Burn After Reading and Hail, Caesar specifically) and thought they could pull off something just like it, what with its sprawling cast and interlocking subplots, but what we end up getting here feels like a first draft at best as several of the subplots just peter out, the way they all connect together is ridiculous (and not in a good way), and there are huge stretches of this movie that stop dead in its tracks just so we can play catch up on all the plots. Spinning plates can be impressive, but don’t expect your first attempt at it to be an overwhelming success as you’ll more than likely be left with a bunch of broken platters and maybe a few pity claps.
More than anything else, what ruins this movie is its pacing and structure which turns a rather mild comedy into an endurance test of banality and frustration. Now if it were up to me to make this movie, there’s a good half hour to forty-five minutes that would have hit the cutting room floor which take place back in Chicago despite David Oyelowo’s story being the primary one here and taking place thousands of miles away. If any of your remember Snatched (I’d understand if you didn’t), imagine if the scenes with Ike Barinholtz trying to get the FBI to find his family was half the movie, and then imagine if those scenes were just him putting about doing nothing to advance the story. All the scenes in Chicago with Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, and Thandie Newton are narrative dead ends that don’t do ANYTHING to affect what’s going on in Mexico and don’t offer much humor or insight into this situation to justify their existence outside of one or two instances where Edgerton puts something in motion to add to the chaos in Mexico. It doesn’t help that the writing is embarrassingly weak at points as most of the jokes (both in Chicago AND Mexico) left me scratching my head more than anything else, and sure that could be MY unrefined tastes shining through (*cough* bullshit *cough*), but I simply could not find the humor in so many of the jokes that they were telling. One character says that Joel Edgerton does push-ups in his office, and he’s saying this as a reason for David Oyelowo not to trust the guy, because… what? I don’t get it; what does exercise have to do with trustworthiness!? There’s crap like this throughout the movie and it’s only made worse by the fractured way they’re telling the story It’s almost like the characters in Chicago weren’t intended to have this much screen time, but the filmmakers beefed up their roles once they realized who they could get to play them. Sure, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, and Thandie Newton are great actors who can carry a film in their own right, but not with the roles they have here and ESPECIALLY not by sucking time away from the more important aspects of the story!
Then again, it’s not like we’re pulling time and focus away from a story that’s SIGNIFICANTLY more entertaining because frankly there’s no one worth rooting for throughout most of this movie, ESPECIALLY David Oyelowo. He’s put upon by those around him and yet acts with honesty and integrity which is supposed to garner sympathy from the audience, but he’s also a total push-over, almost without charm, and is barely engaged within his own story. None of this is the fault of the actor by the way as David Oyelowo REALLY stands out whenever the script allows him to (he’s hysterical when caught in terrifying situations), but for most of the film he’s either sitting his ass down at a bar or being dragged around by another character to the next plot point. He’s meant to be the star of the film, the focal point around which the plot turns, and yet he barely feels like he’s in it. The closest comparison I can make, at least structure wise, is how a lot of Coen Brothers movies have a loose narrative on which to hang up a collection of eclectic and fascinating characters, but there’s almost no one here that really shines the way you would need them to in order for this kind of structure to make sense.
Now I say there’s ALMOST no one here that really shines because the only time this movie comes to life is when Sharlto Copley comes into it at around the halfway point (which is FAR too late to be introducing him) and he ends up stealing every scene he’s in. The dude is charismatic, frightening at points, has some GREAT lines, and manages to move the plot forward a hell of lot more than anyone else in the script! He’s also one of the few characters that interact with David Oyelowo on a personal level rather than as a plot device, and the chemistry between them is more than strong enough to carry a film all by itself. Why they went with this faux Coen Brothers nonsense instead of a straightforward buddy film is beyond me, and not even the sensational brilliance of Shalrto Copley can save this movie from its own laundry list of bad ideas, and it’s a shame because there REALLY is enough in this movie that you’d expect it to be so much better than it is! Outside of straight up not finishing the film which would have put this right alongside The Snowman, I can’t think of a way you could screw up such a simple idea as this, yet the filmmakers managed to pull it off by having no confidence in its primary storyline and covering up that fact with extraneous bullshit that literally goes nowhere.
There’s so much that SHOULD have worked here and it’s surprising just how much of it doesn’t. Not the FUN kind of surprising mind you! The really obnoxious and tedious kind where you can feel every second of the two hours you’ll spend in that theater. Don’t make the same mistake I did and just skip this movie. It’s not even really worth checking out once it gets a home release (or an Amazon Prime release) outside of the really awesome scenes with Shalrto Copley that come FAR too late into the movie. Had this movie been cut IN HALF and the film focused entirely on what was happening to David Oyelowo directly, MAYBE this could have been a bit better, but as it is now it’s a slow motion train wreck that’s not worth your time in the slightest. Seriously, how do you look at a guy like Sharlto Copley and NOT put him in every scene of the movie!?