Movie review: Get the Gringo

In this direct-to-premium-home-video outing, Mel Gibson stars as a nameless criminal who gets sent to the big house — the big house in this case being a prison/village hybrid that is pretty much a character in itself. The setting alone makes the film worth watching, especially when you consider the fact that places like this actually exist. Couple that with Mel’s assured performance and a strong supporting cast and you have a film that’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you appreciate the Mel Gibson films of old.

The aforementioned prison town brings to mind the Brazilian favelas from 2000’s City of God, a cluttered mess of ragged living quarters and shady business fronts, only inside a walled compound with armed guards patrolling up above. Everything is done out in the open here: prostitution, drug deals, beatings … you name it. The film features more than its fair share of scumbag characters to partake in the festivities, and Mel is, of course, the likable scumbag out of his element. As you can already guess though, it doesn’t take Mel long to fit in and start making some moves.

When the film starts, it’s pedal to the metal. A getaway car races down the edge of the border, with authorities on both sides of the fence. Mel’s the man behind the wheel, and his partner is in the backseat screaming to the heavens due to a gutshot. Deciding to take his chances with the Mexican long arm of the law, Mel jumps a dirt ramp and crashes down on the Mexico side of the border. The Mexican cops claim jurisdiction, and the one in charge sees an opportunity to make off with the shitload of money resting in the back seat of Mel’s totaled car. He dumps Mel in the prison town, sure that he’ll disappear for good once inside.

Mel’s character in Get the Gringo reminded me a lot of his earlier turn in Payback as Porter. In fact, both films share a lot of the same plot details and general grittiness. They both have Mel fucked over for a fair amount of cash, a limited color palette and a tendency to have everyone kill each other while Mel stands off to the side plotting his next move. The main difference between the two is that while this movie might actually be a bit funnier, it doesn’t have the benefit of featuring a treasure trove of 60s/70s badasses like William Devane, James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson, as Payback does. You could almost say that Mel’s character here actually is Porter, just a few years along and a little more careful in his old age.

So, if you enjoyed Payback, you’re sure to enjoy this film. Mel is as crafty here as ever, and part of the fun of watching this movie is in seeing just how he’s going to get out of the predicament he’s in, which is why I’ve been light on the plot details thus far. There’s a moment later on in the film where Mel decides to impersonate Clint Eastwood during a phone call that had the house in stitches. It’s a terrible impersonation but close enough that you can’t help but chuckle.

I particularly enjoyed seeing several of the cast members from Gibson’s Apocalypto brought into the fold. Not to turn this piece into a defense of Mel Gibson, but it says a lot (to me, anyway) that he didn’t just forget about these people and kept them in mind for this film. If you look carefully enough, you’ll notice a couple of them in various bit roles. I’ll let you enjoy spotting them for yourself.

Kevin Hernandez is worth noting as the kid in the movie that Mel’s character takes a liking to. He’s actually pretty good and really starts to grow on you, especially when you come to realize his plight. Peter Stormare plays the same crazed kind of character that he’s made his staple over the years, but other than the fact that it’s Stormare playing him, there’s nothing notable about his performance.

This is a fun little movie that didn’t get a theatrical release for obvious reasons. With Gibson’s reputation languishing at this point in time, it’s not hard to understand why the choice was made to go straight to video with this film. Still, it’s kind of a bummer, considering that the film is a genuine crowd pleaser with plenty of blood-soaked, Peckinpah-influenced violence and a great performance by Mel doing what he does best. Even though he’s getting on in years, you can still see that crazed spark in his eyes. Just that in itself makes the movie a fun ride.