On the same day that Mel Gibson’s new movie, the enjoyably junky and excessively violent “Get the Gringo” (formerly “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”), was shown in an advance screening across the country via a bizarre satellite transmission (based out of Austin, Texas), another expletive-laced Gibson rant was unleashed on the internet (this time, instead of his estranged girlfriend, Gibson’s ire was directed at “Showgirls” screenwriter Joe Eszterhas). It was a perfectly timed example of the duality of Gibson the artist (he not only stars in ‘Gringo’ but also co-wrote and produced) and Gibson the unhinged fucking madman. It’s enough to make you wonder if maybe Gibson hasn’t succeeded despite his obvious insanity, but because of it, especially since “Get the Gringo” is so insanely entertaining.
“Get the Gringo,” which is ingloriously debuting on pay satellite channels instead of actual, you know, theaters, opens in a fury of action – Gibson (wearing a rubbery clown mask; like Ryan Gosling his character is credited simply as “Driver”) is making a high-speed getaway towards the Mexican border. His partner (also wearing a clown mask) is shot, a bag full of money open in the backseat, blowing hundred dollar bills into the arid Texas heat, state troopers hot on his trail. He finally crashes through the border, and when the Mexican authorities show up, they say that the Americans can have him. “You can deal with the paperwork,” one of the Mexican patrolman says, ready to toss him back over the border. Then the Mexicans look in the backseat, see the money, and decide they’d rather have Mel for themselves (his partner is dead and, as we all know, there’s nothing funny about a dead clown).
Gibson is then handcuffed and sent to a Mexican prison that’s sort of like what the Mall of America would be like if it was built on top of the hellmouth – a sprawling labyrinth of gangsters, lowlifes, drug dealers and thieves. Like Mos Eisley, it’s a wretched hive of scum and villainy. So naturally Mel fits right in – he steals from the local heroin dealer and hides a gun in a public toilet (yuck). Since the prison is open, it’s sort of like a shantytown, compartmentalized and rugged, and family members of prisoners can come and go as they please. One of these family members is a young boy (Kevin Hernandez from “The Sitter”) whose mother (Dolores Heredia) is incarcerated for running drugs and who is considered “special” by the local gangsters. Mel and the kid strike up an uneasy friendship, which becomes somewhat more emotionally invested as the movie moves along (although with one critical, structural misstep that almost derails the whole thing).
You see, the kid has a rare and specific blood type and the aging kingpin of the prison, Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) needs a liver transplant, so he keeps the kid alive and protected until he can harvest his vital organs. Because, really, what’s a prison crime movie without a little organ harvesting? Gibson is also under the gun from his former boss, Frank (Peter Stormare, who looks almost exactly like the European version of Daniel Gimenez Cacho, or maybe it’s the other way around – confusing!), who is wondering where, exactly, the money went, and corruption on the other side of the fence via disreputable lawyers and cops.
It’s a big stew of skuzzy crime novel nonsense, intermittently punctuated by shocking bursts of violence; you can practically feel the movie existing in another life as a leery, yellowed paperback. The film was co-written and directed by Adrian Grunberg, who served as Mel’s personal assistant for many years before working as first assistant director on Gibson films such as “Edge of Darkness” and the masterfully weird “Apocalypto,” and he really pulled off a very specific look and tone and point of view, which is pretty great for a first-time director, especially one tasked with an unwieldy star like Gibson. “Enter the Void” cinematographer Benoit Debie shoots the movie (digitally) in garish oranges and yellows, emphasizing its luridness to an almost psychedelic degree, and both the supporting cast and Gibson give performances that fit pretty perfectly within the no-holds-barred prison atmosphere.
There’s certainly the question of whether or not anyone will see “Get the Gringo.” Not only is its satellite exclusivity limiting, but people seem to be generally turned off by Gibson, at least since his personal life started overriding his cinematic endeavors. In a way, though, “Get the Gringo” is an admission of sorts – like his masterpiece “Apocalypto” – it’s a star who is saying, “Listen, this is who I am – it’s ugly and violent and hateful and homophobic and misogynistic, but it’s me and you’re going to have to deal with that.” And while it’s hard to forgive or excuse Gibson and his actions over the past few years, it is refreshing when an artist speaks through his craft like this. Maybe being a borderline psychotic wasn’t something that held him back but made him produce things like the gloriously hallucinogenic “Apocalypto” (and, to a lesser degree, the filthy “Get the Gringo”). It’s an interesting and problematic idea, but one that holds a certain amount of water. People might not find it all that pleasurable, but “Get the Gringo” is, refreshingly, 100% Mel. [B+]
“Get The Gringo” will be available on DirectTV starting May 1st.