In director Nash Edgerton’s new action-comedy Gringo, there’s not much action and there’s certainly not much comedy. All of which makes you wonder how Edgerton was able to secure the services of the movie stars that populate the cast of Gringo, with the notable exception of his brother Joel Edgerton. Gringo is a movie that is really a special kind of awful, one where it’s obvious from the opening frames that it simply doesn’t work and yet it just keeps on trudging along even though it’s aimless in every conceivable way. This is a movie that is practically daring you to walk out.
The film opens with Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) in his plush Chicago office taking a panicked call from Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), Richard’s employee and friend, who is informing the two that he’s just been kidnapped in Mexico. This is one of those really clever openings that teases the escalation of the story that will get revisited once a flashback gets us all caught up. Who am I kidding? There’s nothing clever about this opening.
Two days earlier and Harold is living a quaint suburban life with his wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton). Money issues loom over Harold like a cloud. Rumors of Richard selling his pharmaceutical company (because major pharmaceutical companies are typically privately held) have Harold uneasy about his future. His personal accounts are in the red and debts are piling up. Meanwhile, Bonnie works as a designer for Richard’s new penthouse suite, but that is her only client. Richard is also sleeping with Bonnie as well as Elaine depending on whomever is closest at any given time.
Where is this all going? Well, I’m not sure that anyone involved with Gringo could provide you with a clear answer but I’ll try my best to give you some faint idea of how this ramshackle mess unfolds. Harold, Richard, and Elaine travel to Mexico where this privately owned pharmaceutical company is performing experiments on marijuana pills. Here Harold learns that Richard has been lying to him and the company is for sale while simultaneously his wife tells him that she’s leaving him over Skype. At the same time, Richard and Elaine have decided to cease their covert business with a drug kingpin obsessed with the Beatles, who is perhaps the only bit of flavor in Gringo that works. Then Harold fakes his own kidnapping once Richard and Elaine return to Chicago in hopes of using the ransom to fund his new life. It winds up that the cartels are looking for Harold while Richard has dispatched his brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), a former mercenary who has a spiritual awakening, to find his kidnapped employee.
If were worried that the screenplay for Gringo by Matthew Stone and Anthony Tambakis wasn’t overstuffed enough, there’s also a storyline involving a couple that works at a guitar store in Los Angeles who travel to Mexico. Miles (Harry Treadaway) takes his girlfriend Sunny (Amanda Seyfried) south of the border to pull off a lucrative drug deal while she tags along oblivious to the reason for their impromptu vacation.
The film is a tedious slog to sit through as its story takes far too long to come into focus. All the subplots that are swirling around Gringo just float around the film’s central story with little purpose. The way some of these stories eventually intersect towards the end is flat out embarrassing and could’ve easily been just removed from the film without affecting anything in the story aside from the film’s bloated running time.
Nash Edgerton never finds even the faintest hint of a rhythm to Gringo’s overly convoluted story. The action is never captivating and there’s not one scene with even a bit of suspense. The humor is also remarkably flat. Joke after joke is delivered with gusto by the cast but lands with deadening thud, meaning you’re more likely to hear the person behind you munching on popcorn than laughing. Perhaps the worst aspect of Gringo, which is really quite saying something, is the dimly lit cinematography of Eduard Grau. There are numerous scenes of Gringo where its leading man, David Oyelowo, is obscured in underlit scenes that rob this versatile actor having his facial expressions and features visible. The incompetence of Gringo is present all over the place, but nowhere is it more prevalent than a film so poorly shot that it robs its brilliant and charismatic star of his talents.
Sitting through Gringo I wondered how the film was being released in its present form. I’m genuinely shocked that the distributor didn’t just cut their losses and slash this 110-minute slog into a semi-coherent, or at least tolerable, 90 minutes. When it’s all said and done, a brutal, butchering cut of Gringo might’ve been a step upward because nothing works in the film. There’s no wit, no cinematic flair, no sharp or biting social commentary in Gringo. Hell, it can’t even remain focused on its own story for more than five minutes at a time. Buying a ticket to Gringo is forking over a ransom in advance to allow yourself to be kidnapped and tortured for two hours.