Saturday, May 5, 2012
Mel Gibson is back in top form as a gimlet-eyed career criminal in freshman director Adrian Grunberg's "Get the Gringo," (*** OUT OF ****) a gritty, gory, hard-boiled crime thriller set inside a corrupt Mexican prison, like Tijuana's El Pueblito, where anything goes. Good movies don't dawdle, and rarely does this bullet-riddled, shoot'em up about life behind bars telegraph its next move. Any prison where an inmate's family can move in with him while he serves time is pretty unusual. This prison resembles something out of a trigger-happy Robert Rodriguez actioneer. Men come and go with loaded weapons in plain sight. You can even shell out bucks for a shot of heroin administered by needle in a grungy shop. Everything in this replica of Tijuana's El Pueblito has a price. As an anonymous convict, Gibson provides the kind of voice-over we usually hear in a loquacious Martin Scorsese film. Gibson's sarcastic commentary about El Pueblito with its unusual routines and procedures highlights the surreal nature of the squalid setting. Nobody delivers a bad performance, and Hollywood regulars like Bob Gunton, Patrick Bauchau, and Peter Stormare flesh out the film with familiar faces.
You never really know for certain where things are going in this violent, amoral, tongue-in-cheek, 95-minute melodrama."Get the Gringo" opens with Driver (Mel Gibson of “Payback”) and his wounded partner in clown outfits careening down the highway with cops in close pursuit. Desperately, Driver plows his car through the border fence, and the Mexican police arrest him. The Texas police try to persuade their Mexican counterparts to remand him into their custody. Instead, one glance at two duffel bags bulging with a million dollars prompts the Mexicans to keep him on their side of the border. Once Driver lands in the big house, he gets chummy with a 10-year-old kid (Kevin Hernandez of "The Sitter") who is plotting to exact revenge on another criminal, Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho of "Cronos"), who killed his father. The 10-year old's mother and father were incarcerated for selling narcotics. Initially, Driver uses cigarettes to bribe the youngster into silence. You see, the youngster saw Driver rob a fat, slimy heroin dealer after he set a fire to create a distraction. Afterward, Driver decides to use the youth as his eyes and ears inside the prison. Interestingly, "Get the Gringo" could be compared to the silent Charles Chaplin comedy "The Kid" because an adult sets out to help a less fortunate child. Primarily, the filmmakers use the child to make Driver appear more sympathetic. Gradually, Driver learns the ropes and uses them to get ahead of the opposition.
Before long Driver's nemesis Frank (Peter Stormare of "The Million Dollar Hotel") dispatches professional killers to ferret out the millions that Driver stole from him. They track down the crooked cops who arrested Driver and start cutting off toes to recover the purloined millions. Meantime, Driver struggles inside the prison to gain Javi's confidence and engineer a deal so he can get out, go back to America, and kill Frank. Driver has no respect for anybody but himself, and he abhors Javi with a passion. It seems that the bathrobe-clad prison kingpin has singled out the 10-year old for preferential treatment. As it turns out, the youth has a liver compatible with Javi's blood type, and Javi needs a fresh liver. Javi hires a surgeon (Patrick Bauchau of "A View to a Kill") to harvest the youngster's liver and transplant it into his body. Interestingly, "Get the Gringo" could be compared to the silent Charles Chaplin comedy "The Kid" because an adult sets out to help a less fortunate child. Indeed, aside from the urchin who befriends him, Gibson is as virtuous as Saint Peter compared with the murderous malcontents who populate the prison..
Life in "Get the Gringo" is cheap, and death occurs when you least expect it. Three armed guys stroll into the prison at one point and try to ice Driver. They hit everybody but Driver. Bodies litter the premises. The Warden (Fernando Becerril of "Ravenous") informs Javi, who rules the prison with his thugs, that the government plans to shut them down as a consequence of the gunfight. Of course, the whole point to any prison picture is how the hero manages to escape. Happily, Gibson survives with everything intact, while the treacherous villains bite the dust. Grunberg orchestrates several chaotic shoot-outs, and Gibson is by no means a typical convict. When they fingerprint him, the authorities discover that he has burned off his fingerprints. Everybody is out to take advantage of him, even some treacherous Americans, but Driver turns the tables on everybody.
"Blackout" production designer Bernardo Trujillo has performed miracles with the closed down Veracruz prison where "Get the Gringo" was lensed on location. Grunberg and Trujillo have managed to recreate a world teeming with the dregs of humanity, a microcosm of Hell, where men degenerate into brutish savages and display no qualms about killing each other. Basically, what you've got is survival of the fittest in the worst place on Earth. This miserable hell hole turns out to be a paradise ripe for the plucking for the self-serving Driver who has just eluded the Texas police with several millions of dollars in loot.
Initially, "Get the Gringo" was entitled "How I Spent My Summer Vacation." At least the latter title has some irony, but "Get the Gringo" gets to the point quicker and summarizes the action. Director Adrian Grunberg gives a good account of himself. The prison setting looks thoroughly authentic, and Grunberg relies on Mexican music to evoke the culture. Fans of Mel Gibson who haven't seen him in a gripping action thriller since his "Lethal Weapon" days won't feel like they have been shortchanged. Gibson has done nothing like "Get the Gringo," and no Hollywood epic has depicted life behind bars as "Get the Gringo." Life below the border has never been presented so pungently unless you've seen something comparable like Luis Buñuel's 1950 crime movie "The Young and the Damned." Incidentally, "Get the Gringo" is available in America only as a video-on-demand through Direct TV, while the film is showing in theaters in the rest of the world.