Prosciutto and rockmelon. Chocolate and pretzels. Strawberries and balsamic vinegar. Strange combinations, but they work so perfectly together (or maybe I’m just hungry). The same goes for crime and comedy - when these two genres come together spectacularly, they’re a real treat. ‘Gringo’ is the latest film which earnestly tries to combine these two ingredients - but does it have the recipe for success, or collapse like a flan in a cupboard?
Harold (David Oyelowo, 'A United Kingdom', 'Selma') is a pleasant, hard-working, if not somewhat naïve employee of his friend Richard (Joel Edgartown, 'Red Sparrow', 'The Gift', 'Zero Dark Thirty') and his partner - in more ways than one - Elaine (Charlize Theron, 'Atomic Blonde', 'Mad Max: Fury Road'). When the trio take a trip to Mexico to check in on one of their pharmaceutical labs there, Harold is kidnapped - though not before first faking his own kidnapping when he discovers that the bosses are planning to stab him in the back. A cat-and-mouse game full of drug cartels, mercenaries, CIA agents and dismembered toes ensues.
SWITCH: 'GRINGO' TRAILER
There’s so much going on here - in fact, too much. It leaves what could have been a great crime comedy in a state of disarray. There’s just so many loose ends on top of all the double-crossing: Harold’s wife (Thandie Newton, TV's 'Westworld' and 'Rogue', 'Crash') is cheating on him, there’s two Mexican brothers who also want to kidnap Harold, not to mention a whole storyline with a couple acting as drug mules that’s almost entirely unnecessary. All this focus on the crime element does mean the comedy is a little thin on the ground, and the film is worse for it. The story, from Anthony Tambakis ('Jane Got a Gun') and Matthew Stone ('Intolerable Cruelty'), is a little too ambitious, never leaving you bored, but all-too-frequently forcing you to wonder why they tried spinning so many plates simultaneously.
‘Gringo’ is directed by Joel Edgerton’s brother Nash - also ambitiously, yet within his means for a small-budget film. Working hard not to be the only Edgerton with just one skill in Hollywood, he’s managed to take the script and put together a really interesting film. Aesthetically, Mexico is gritty yet full of splashes of colour, he does some really nice work on the action sequences, and he’s assembled a great cast to pull it off.
And what a cast it is. Oyelowo is brilliant in the lead role here, perfectly playing this clueless yet very relatable character, and he handles the humour marvellously. It’s a role reminiscent of Robert Downey Jr in ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ - a ordinary man thrown into a very extreme situation who flounders in the most entertaining ways possible - and may be his best role to date given the fantastic range of his performance. Joel Edgerton plays a great asshole, and continues his trend of taking on really interesting and attention-grabbing roles. Sharlto Copley ('Chappie', 'Elysium', 'District 9') also stars as Richard’s brother and a former mercenary, and a constant frenemy to Harold in a stellar performance. Amanda Seyfried ('Lovelace', 'Les Misérables', 'Dear John') pops in for a few scenes, and has a really heartfelt moment with Harold in one of the only pleasant scenes in the film. But stealing this show in a Kate McKinnon-inspired role is Charlize Theron. Playing a badass female boss who dominates every man in this film with her no-bullshit attitude and burns like barbs of steel, she has the best dialog and relishes every word of it.
This may be David Oyelowo’s best role to date given the fantastic range of his performance.
So ‘Gringo’s’ not perfect. In fact, it’s a bit of a minefield of a story, but it is highly enterprising, pleasantly unique, and never boring. Inevitably slipping under the radar despite its stellar cast, this is a film you’ll have to hunt out to experience - and while it might not be the best crime comedy going around (the aforementioned ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ still holds that title for me), this is an enjoyable and wildly inventive addition to the genre.