Marking his first feature film directing gig in the Hollywood system after numerous acting performances and a feature debut in The Square he directed in his native Australia, Nash Edgerton brings us his spin on the classic ‘kidnapping gone wrong’ tale that is Gringo. Casting close to home, Edgerton places his brother Joel as one of the main protagonists in a story that seems familiar and carries very little surprise that can’t be seen coming a mile away but manages to still entertain off the performances of its very talented cast.
Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) is a mid-level manager in a pharmaceutical company owned by his college friend Richard Rusk (Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron), a money hungry, manipulative dynamo who does not hold Harold with much of any regard. Over his head in debt due to a wife (Thandie Newton) he is unaware is already cheating on him, Harold discovers that Richard and Elaine intend to merge the company with another conglomerate, a move that will likely make his middle management position expendable. On a trip to Mexico to investigate a shortage and the manufacturing plant, Harold makes a desperate move in staging his own kidnapping to claim the insurance payout. But Harold does not know that he’s been pegged as a scapegoat the whole time. And his actions kick of a chain of events that include him running into a couple (Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway), one of whom is a drug mule unbeknownst to the other, Richard’s demented ex-special forces brother (Sharlto Copley), a Mexican Cartel boss obsessed with The Beatles (Hernan Mendoza) and one of his henchman (Yul Vazquez) who may be more than he appears.
A typical madcap action comedy that likes to throw a bunch of characters together that all happen to have weird quirks or circumstances and continually cross paths for reasons born out of circumstances of moving the plotting along, Gringo is hardly breaking new ground within the genre. But the success of these films largely depends on the casting and the likability, or non-likeability in this case as well, of the characters they portray. And a lot of times it also comes down to whether they are having fun on set, and clearly the actors on Gringo where having a blast.
Charlize Theron, in particular, is just chewing scenery as if she hasn’t eaten in weeks as the smarmy Elaine. Her ingratiating behaviors coupled with a backstabbing demeanor perpetuates the screen and keeps the audience enthralled throughout. The culminating scene coming with a crocodile teared confession that ends with instantaneous facial expression change to utter and complete boredom as she checks her watch after being left alone. Joel Edgerton does well here as an overconfident ass as well here, with some hilarious scenes played out through an intercorporate basketball league.
The rest of the cast sporadically jump in and out of the film with their many quirks set up to establish them as memorable in the story. For the most part, they are fine, but some, like Sharlto Copley playing an all too familiar character to him, are merely coasting along. Oyelowo gets the unenviable task of straight man to all this madness here, and his everyman nature manages to keep him grounded enough through the ridiculousness around him to keep the film on the rails.
Nash Edgerton does a decent job keeping the action flowing and manages to stage a fun to watch ending that ties up all this mess. It’s a decent attempt at an all too retread genre that manages to entertain throughout. Nash seems to know that most of what’s coming is not going to surprise to many, and doesn’t overstate the obvious too much, keeping the action barreling forward to it unavoidable big shootout finale.
Completely unoriginal, but fun despite this, Gringo succeeds on the over the top antics of two very likable stars playing against type with aplomb. It’s a film that will entertain upon release but will fade quickly in the midst of everything else playing in theaters, a minimal film that will be long gone by the time heavy hitters Isle of Dogs and Ready Player One hit theaters later this month. But its worth admission alone to watch Theron give a masterclass in ‘over the top heel’ persona acting worthy of a spot in the WWE.