Whether Get the Gringo, the title of this Mel Gibson vehicle, is meant to satirise his past misdemeanours is up for debate, but what isn’t is that it proves he’s certainly not finished following events in his personal life and the panning of his last film, The Beaver. Get the Gringo is a gun-blazing action-comedy which plays to his strengths as an anti-hero up against the odds, yet somehow managing to get out of sticky situations (bar a few hiccups) in a ridiculously violent way.
Gibson plays a self-narrated character called Driver, and the story starts with him and his dying accomplice just managing to cross the border to Mexico with a lot of stolen money. Unfortunately for him, the dodgy cops take the cash and throw him into a Mexican jail. Except, it’s not what we expect – it’s like a little enclosed town, where the prison is run from the inside, and families are also kept there. Naturally, Driver stands out like a sore thumb.
This is where the majority of the plot takes place, with Driver at first struggling to survive, and then thriving in this alien setting. He pinpoints who is in charge, who to avoid and who to exploit, slowly beginning to live in relative comfort. Somehow he also befriends a Mexican kid, who has a strange tie-in with the head bad guy (this is to do with one of his organs and his mother, both things which help him at various points, developing a bond while doing so). All the while, Driver is trying to find a way out, and some American gangsters (whose money he stole) are trying to find a way to get in.
What sounds like an absurd storyline is backed up by what transpires on-screen, as this is basically Payback 2: the older years, with Gibson effectively pulling off a role he could well have played 15-20 years ago. Luckily, he doesn’t really do the stereotypical thing and poke fun at himself because of this (thank god we don’t hear the line “I’m getting too old for this…”). However, what is played to stereotype are the Mexican characters. Most of them are corrupt cops, strong family-orientated drug lords or sweaty vest-wearing gangsters; a masked wrestling event even makes an appearance in the prison.
But the beauty of Get the Gringo is that, like its star, it never takes itself too seriously and plays most of these stereotypes tongue-in-cheek. The same goes for all the killings – from the corrupt Mexican cops getting their comeuppance to the slo-mo, continuity error-filled shootout between the prison gangsters and the American ones, resulting in many glorified deaths.
As this is mostly set in Mexico – and it’s mainly all centred on Driver – there’s not much by way of a supporting cast. Peter Stormare makes a small appearance as (you can probably guess) a gangster, and there’s a nice nod to the ultimate prison film The Shawshank Redemption by having Bob Gunton make a cameo. Other than that, the Mexican actors provide a fine back-up, particularly Dolores Heredia as the kid’s mum.
It’s not politically-correct and it doesn’t hold back on the blood, but Get the Gringo is a slick, exciting movie that will keep you entertained. Going back to basics appears to have done the trick for Gibson, because he delivers a vintage performance of the type that has not been seen since 2000’s Chicken Run (and even then it was just his voice).
It’s a shame this film wasn’t promoted more; it’s an ideal summer action flick, and it does remind us that Gibson is still a charming lead, albeit older and no doubt wiser. And, he shows he is definitely not too old for this just yet.
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