I know this looks like a stupid movie. Mel Gibson is on the poster and the title makes it sound like a ripoff of Elmore Leonard's GET SHORTY. I'm sure most of you overlooked it for rental already. Not that old Mel deserved a last hurrah, but this is not a good movie. This is a great movie! Not that it'll win awards or anything, but GET THE GRINGO is the gritty, hardboiled movie in recent memory that understands what gritty, hardboiled fiction is, the most. It's fun, stylish, way over-the-top and yet finds the correct angle to discuss darker issues. I watched this movie after being tipped by Jed Ayres that it was better than it looked and not only it was better, but burned a hole through my television screen, kicked me in the balls, stole my beer and threw me down the stairs. It's that kind of movie.
The movie opens with an amazing car chase * where Gibson's character is trying to cross the border, disguised as a clown, with a dying man and a bag full of money on the back seat of his car. He does get over to Mexico, only to get picked up by the local cops, see them steal his loot and lock him in a prison called "El Pueblito'', ran by a mobster named Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho). The prison is organized like a small village where chaos reigns. There are both women and children there as the convinct are allowed to bring in their family. Trying to figure his way out, Gibson's character (who is never named), befriends a child (Kevin Hernandez), who seems to receive special treatment from Javi's thugs. When he learns the horrible truth about why he's treated this way, both decide to help each other beat the odds.
First of all, let me congratulate Mel Gibson for being involved in a non-racist and non-hateful project for the first time in over a decade. GET THE GRINGO is not a paragon of sensibility, but gangsters are equally bad on both sides of the line and you will find that the Mexican people are painted with more nuance and detail than the big, fat, destructive Americans. Keep in mind that GET THE GRINGO is painted with a really broad brush, but still, the effort is commendable.
Also, I wonder why Mel Gibson ever walked away from gritty-yet-slightly-humorous action movies. He's a natural. Remember him in Richard Stark's adaptation PAYBACK? Or better yet, his infamous LETHAL WEAPON legacy, where he waved a glorious mullet around like a hat of awesomeness? Well, this is in the same line of thought. But this time Gibson is old, tired and yet perfect for the part. Charlie Sheen would have done a great job too but Gibson's casting is easily explainable as he co-wrote the script with his long-time colleague Adrian Grunberg. I suspect this was Grunberg's baby project as it's his first film as a director and the funny, rich and layered script clearly show it's a labor of love.
The biggest upside to GET THE GRINGO is that it understands the tropes of hardboiled fiction very well and is really, really good at it. It doesn't shy away from difficult, stomach-turning violence (may you be warned) and yet it has a great sense of humor. This great emotional range carries the movie effortlessly and you won't find any lengths or lulls. Like a classic hardboiled novel, it's shorts and as tight as it gets. Who knew Mel Gibson still had some fight in him? Who would have thought Adrian Grunberg would have come with a visually and narratively coherent and consistent first time efforts like this? The more movies I see, the less I say this, but I could watch GET THE GRINGO more than once. Hardboiled fans, give Mel one last chance on this one.
* Yes, I used the words ''amazing'' and ''car chase'' together. Think about it.