Of all the worn tropes to have sunk more than a few filmmakers over the years, the Americans-in-a-Mexican-kerfuffle subgenre feels, at times, like it sits next to found footage horror movies on the mythical shelf of “why even bother?”, and, unfortunately for director Nash Edgerton, Gringo is highly unlikely to change that sad reality.
Sporting what could be the most under-utilised cast of the past year (you will honestly forget Amanda Seyfried was in this pretty quickly) and sporting a script best described as a loose association of vowels and consonants between the occasional dick joke, Gringo is charitably described as an uninteresting waste of time, and, despite David Oyelowo’s commanding attempts otherwise, that’s being extremely charitable.
A textbook case of putting the cart before the horse – the horse, in this case, being anything resembling a developed character – Gringo smacks of the kind of passion project brought to life largely through a safe (re. low) budget and the goodwill of name-on-the-poster friends willing to give up a week in the faint chance it all works out. Sadly, any such notion of that becoming a reality are swiftly done away with at the behest of lacklustre writing from scribes Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone, whose unyielding desire to “do a Soderbergh” results less in something Out of Sight, and more something you’d wish had actually been out of sight.
Not a single character is given anything resembling a personality beyond a broad stroke, no plot development moves without the creakiness of “because… reasons” and any semblance of sharpness to be found cuts with all the grace of a pneumatic drill being wielded by someone with a hangover.
That Gringo forgets to include such basics as an establishing shot at any point comes as little surprise given the film itself never actually establishes anything. David Oyelowo’s Nigerian immigrant Howard takes a business trip to Mexico for… reasons, decides to act out on his constantly being screwed over at work by faking his own kidnapping, because his boss (Joel Edgerton, aka. how this got partially funded) is sleeping with his formerly-obese wife (because… hilarious?) whilst he and his co-manager and emotionless sex-puppet Charlize Theron (aka. how the rest of it got funded) sleaze their way to having Howard killed to make the company a profit.
There’s enough raw material in that plot, admittedly, to craft something akin to A Fish Called Wanda. In the hands of Tambakis and Stone, however, the concept instead sleeps with the fishes.
It’s never even fleetingly funny and doesn’t, at any point, even try to become engaging; Gringo instead simply languishes away on screen with little to do or say for itself. Oyelowo, always quite a reliable performer, fights in vain to bring anything close to a personality to proceedings, but empty direction from Nash Edgerton and a screenplay that feels increasingly hostile towards its own existence kick and claw their way against him.
Joel Egerton, meanwhile, is a vacant husk of a performer here, and how you pitch a project in this day and age to Charlize Theron as “basically your Prometheus role, but you can say ‘cock’ in this one” would be a mystery for the ages did it not require anyone to admit having spent tangible currency to endure Gringo first.
If Gringo were conceived as a cheap-and-cheerful done-for-the-sell-through-revenue Fauxderbergh endeavour, it would be about the only manner in which its existence came even close to making sense, let alone go some way as to explaining how so many otherwise talented individuals could read its screenplay and willingly agree to become a part of it.
It seems to think it’s clever, it seems to think it’s sharp and witty, that it’s built upon the edgy and cool comedically-charged foundations of an Elmore Leonard novel. Yet it’s not. It’s a thunderingly uninteresting use of at least two actors you’d rather see given literally any other chance to be brilliant again – plus Joel Edgerton and Amanda Seyfried – and it’s a staggering waste of time and effort for both its audience and the people involved in putting it together.
Gringo is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, March 30th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.