Harold Soyinka is middle management for a pharmaceutical company that has developed a medical marijuana pill. He is placed in charge of the Mexican lab that develops this pill, and on one of his frequent trips to check up on production his bosses come too. During this visit, he finds out information he really shouldn’t about possible mergers and connections to the Mexican drug cartel.
From the cast list and the trailers, you would be forgiven for believing that Gringo is sharply written crime comedy of errors centred around Selma’s David Oyelowo’s downtrodden hero Harold. He works for Joel Edgerton and Charlize Theron who are two distinct and antagonistic bosses; one, Richard Rusk, is a Frat-bro conman, the other, Elaine Markinson, is a femme fatale with eyes on dominance. All three leads shine as these characters and they are remarkably entertaining when the screenplay kicks into gear. They all have fantastic chemistry together and apart; I could personally watch a film about Charlize Theron’s character straight after Gringo she is so good. Sharlto Copley is there as well as the man sent in to rescue Harold from the dangerous situation. Oh yes, and Thandie Newton, Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway, as well as Michael Jackson’s daughter Paris in a cameo role, and Diego Catano from Netflix’s Narcos. This cast list just burst with potential and the hook of someone pretending to be kidnapped and then there being actual involvement with a cartel holds so many possibilities for dark, farcical comedy.
The problem with Gringo is that it is all talk no action. That doesn’t mean that there is no action in the film, there is some, shame it doesn’t feel like it goes the places it promises to take you. It’s actually frustrating when the film is on it; there is nothing that can stop it, it is dark and hilarious, intriguing and complex, you can see Gringo almost reaching what it thinks it is. But then it gets distracted by its overstuffed character roster, its many plot lines or its many influences and goes off doing something else that leaves you feeling empty and unsatisfied. There is just too much going on, you have Harold, Harold’s company, a drug deal gone south, corporate espionage, mergers, affairs and cartels. Each distracts from the other and barely overlap leaving little room for plot progression or character development, and leaving an undercooked mess that deflates under the first sign of examination.
The highlights may be down to the cast who I have already praised, doing 10 times the work of the screenplay written by Matthew Stone and Anthony Tambakis. Stone contributed the story and his best-known work is a film that the Coens took their name off, Intolerable Cruelty, and Soul Men. While Tambakis who has Jane Got a Gun and Warrior, which also starred Joel Edgerton, under his belt. The film itself is directed by prolific stunt co-ordinator Nash Edgerton, brother of Joel Edgerton, my what a coincidence. There is nothing wrong with working with the same people over and over again, there have been some great cinematic double acts over the years, it can turn out some fun and interesting films. However, it can turn out films like Grown Ups and other Happy Madison train wrecks. While Gringo certainly isn’t as bad as anything Adam Sandler has done lately, it also isn’t as good as any of the Coens films or Tarantino’s pictures, which Gringo is clearly trying to emulate with its mad-consequence ladened plot, its violent comic Beatles obsessed Cartel leader and characters all in over their heads.
While it will be different from the more “prestigious” award films that are released this time of year, and those that weren’t good enough to be considered for awards, Gringo doesn’t really offer anything that you can’t get from the Coens, early Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino. It knows what to do to appear like those films but it is as flat as the screen that the film is projected on and, because you can see its potential, becomes even more frustrating than a truly bad film because you can catch glimpses of a truly entertaining film.
You can watch Gringo in cinemas now