One can understand why top-tier talents such as Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton and Thandie Newton were attracted to the B-movie material of the down-and-dirty, cheerfully nasty, violent action comedy “Gringo.” They all had the opportunity to take on roles you might not immediately associate with their onscreen personas.
Theron plays a cutthroat seductress businesswoman who says horrible things such as “Fat people are so funny,” and DOES horrible things like betraying anyone that gets in her way and doing a cruel imitation of a deaf person.
Edgerton is Theron’s business partner, who’s her equal in the unethical and immoral department, from sleeping with his longtime friend’s wife to ordering a hit on an associate so he can collect the insurance dough.
Newton casually dismisses her loving husband in favor of a cad. When things go wrong for her, she regains the 50 pounds she had once shed and becomes an eating machine.
And Oyelowo, who so often plays the lion-hearted crusader, scores big laughs playing a hapless everyman who always tries to do the right thing — and always gets screwed in the process. When he’s in pain or in danger, he has a tendency to howl and cry in tones so high-pitched dogs will be running for cover.
As you might surmise by some of those character sketches, “Gringo” is a politically incorrect and sometimes convoluted actioner that doesn’t expect you take it seriously for a second.
It’s hit-and-miss in more ways than one. If you go into this expecting a slick, international thriller with some relevant social commentary about relations between the United States and Mexico, the state of corporate greed and how bad things often happen to good people — well, there’s a LITTLE bit of that stuff lightly sprinkled in. But mostly this is a next-generation Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie knockoff with excellent performances from the outstanding cast, a couple of pretty decent twists, some bloody good laughs and — well, that’s about it. With a movie like this, either you’ll tap out after 15 minutes or you’ll settle in for an evening of popcorn and beverage-of-your choice escapism.
Edgerton’s Richard Rusk and Theron’s Elaine Markinson are the co-presidents of a Chicago firm called Cannabis Technologies, and yes, they’re developing a revolutionary (and borderline legal at best) medical marijuana pill. The two of them are corrupt as all get-out, and with the feds breathing down their necks, they need to visit their plant in Mexico to straighten out a few things.
Oyelowo’s Harold, a middle manager with the company who has known Richard since college, is brought along on the trip — mostly because Richard and Elaine might need a patsy.
Meanwhile, in a separate story thread (for now), Harry Treadaway’s feckless Miles is also on his way to Mexico to grab a certain drug sample and smuggle it back to the States. Miles brings along his sunny girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried), who is actually named Sunny, and has no inkling her idiot boyfriend is on a dangerous and very stupid mission.
Richard and Elaine return to Chicago and get mixed up in all kinds of relationship double-crossing stuff, while Harold (who is starting to figure things out) is left behind in Mexico and stages a kidnapping, and then is actually kidnapped, and then escapes, and then is kidnapped at least one more time.
Everyone wants Harold. The leader of a drug cartel mistakenly believes Harold is the head of his company and is the one that holds the key to a secret formula for making a profitable drug. A mercenary (Sharlto Copley in a terrific performance) who has recently undergone a spiritual conversion has been hired to extract Harold from Mexico. But then he’s asked to kill him. What to do? And the DEA is hoping Harold will unwittingly help them break a major case.
Various other half-wits and colorful characters pop in and out of the story, often meeting a bloody demise that’s played for comic effect.
If this all sounds confusing and meandering, that’s because it IS sometimes confusing and meandering. But director Nash Edgerton (a former stuntman and the brother of Joel) and screenwriters Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone do a fine job of juggling the multiple story lines, moving things along at an entertaining clip and planting us firmly in Harold’s corner as he finally begins to take control of his destiny.
Oh, and just FYI, Paris Jackson has a small role early in the film, and she’s pretty good. Because this is the kind of throw-everything-against-the-wall movie that brings Paris Jackson into the fold. And why not?
STXfilms and Amazon Studios present a film directed by Nash Edgerton, and written by Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone. Rated R (for language throughout, violence and sexual content). Running time: 111 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.