Drug lords, twisty plots and gags too
Nash Edgerton’s action-comedy, set mostly in Mexico, is a frantic caper, reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s old films and Elmore Leonard’s novels, teeming with lowlifes. When the characters in Gringo are so wicked, it helps when the actors are top class.
Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton, the director’s brother) is the co-founder, with lover Elaine (Charlize Theron), of a Chicago-based pharmaceutical company called Promethium. The two want to mass produce a pill called Cannabax in Mexico, so that when marijuana is legalised in some states in the US, they get to capture the market. But that requires some wheeling-dealing with corporates and cartels, which they indulge in without guilt.
Richard and Elaine assign their Nigerian employee Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) to manage operations in Mexico. It just so happens that Richard is having an affair with Harold’s wife (Thandie Newton), and he is also in danger of losing his job. So he stages his own kidnapping for a ransom demand of $5 million, which the two sleazy bosses will not pay. His plans go haywire, and Richard summons his brother (Sharlto Copley), a former mercenary to help. Of course, if in Mexico, there has to a drug lord Villegas (Carlos Corona), a Beatles fan, also called Black Panther (really!) and various other nasty types about.
The plot is twisty and unpredictable, the violent bursts are sudden and savage, but there are laughs too, mostly at the expense of Harold, who tries to be clever, but does not know what he is up against. If his performance weren’t so earnest, it could have been construed as racist; it doesn’t help the ‘diversity’ cause if all Mexicans in the film are crooked.
The only one having fun is Charlize Theron, vamping it up as a predatory sexbomb, who won’t let anything stand in her way. Amanda Seyfriend and Harry Treadaway turn up for a pointless subplot, while Paris Jackson makes a debut in a tiny cameo.
Gringo is not a must-see, but if one does wander into a multiplex showing it, it is not a complete waste of ticket money either.