‘Get the Gringo’: Not Getting the Green

Get the Gringo or How I Spent My Summer Vacation, or more accurately, How Mel Gibson Wasted $20 Million, is a movie you’ve probably never heard of. Made by Gibson’s Icon Productions for a reported $20 million, the renamed Get the Gringo received a one-night theatrical run. On a Wednesday. In only a few theaters.

Why? Well, Gibson said in a Los Angeles Times story it was because of the Video On Demand deal made for the film with DirecTV. It was released via the satellite company’s on-demand network 1 May 2012, instead of taking the more traditional – and lucrative – theatrical run.

I don’t know if it paid off or not. What I do know, though, is that Gibson is far from the most marketable actor in the business right now. The Oscar-winning director and producer may have been one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars in the ’80s, ’90s, and early aughts, but after his much-publicized run-ins with the law, ex-wives, and screenwriters, Gibson may be done as a movie star.

It’s too bad because Mel Gibson: Movie Star is by far the best version of Mel. He easily trumps real-life Mad Mel, and, while the gap is much smaller, he still outperforms Behind-the-Camera Mel. Think about it – would Braveheart be Braveheart with another actor playing William Wallace? No. It would be Apocolypto, or at least a lot closer to it. The rest of his directorial efforts pale in comparison to his acting resume. The Passion of the Christ or Lethal Weapon? The Man Without a Face or Lethal Weapon 2? I’d go on, but there’s only two more Lethal Weapons.

Even this B-movie grade production benefits from Gibson’s trademark angry charm. Get the Gringo is a fairly simple tale of career criminals mingling with one another in a unique setting – El Pueblito prison in Mexico. After getting chased down by the feds and federales on the Mexico/America border, Gibson’s character (who we learn from the credits is simply called “Driver”) has his money taken by corrupt Mexican cops and is then thrown in jail under bogus charges. He’s far from innocent, but he’s certainly not guilty of that crime.

The prison, though, is certainly unlike any holding cell I’ve seen in a movie before. Reportedly based on an actual jail community in Mexico, El Pueblito is more of a prisoner’s prison than a state-run facility. Inmates arrange their own housing, sleeping quarters, food, clothing, drinks, drugs, and everything else imaginable. Gibson quickly learns the lay of the land and starts plotting his escape. Events unfold from there. Action, violence, and some dark humor ensue.

Get the Gringo is not that unlike a previous Gibson film in both its despondent tone and gritty carnage: 1999’s semi-hit Payback. I think I enjoyed that revenge tale a little more than this cops-and-robbers, or robbers-and-robbers picture, but fans of one would certainly appreciate the other. Production value was certainly higher for Payback. Many of the shots in Get the Gringo are inconsistent with those surrounding them – it looks crisp and clear, then suddenly blurry and out of focus. I’m guessing director Adrian Grunberg was trying to work with different film stock or video filters to stay within budget, but they should have known this wouldn’t settle right during pre-production.

Other than a few other technical snafus and some story inconsistencies, Get the Gringo is a solid piece of action entertainment. It’s sporadically funny, fast, furious, and even features some impressive set pieces and one hell of a shootout. Gibson, who co-wrote the screenplay, isn’t trying to get back in the Academy’s good graces. My issue, though, is that I’m not sure which group he’s trying win back with this picture.

Anyone willing to watch this is clearly willing to watch Gibson in anything. Everyone else could be turned off by any number of storylines. First and foremost, Mel’s character is a criminal. He’s a bad guy. Most people already think of Mel as a bad guy. They don’t need a reminder. Secondly, he’s a little crazy. He does some wild, violent stuff in this movie that many picture him as capable of doing in real life. Sure, he’s the bad guy with a heart of gold, but that heart is buried deep, deep within. Finally, if people didn’t want to see an understandably vengeful Mel in Edge of Darkness three years ago, why would they want to see a greedier, angrier, version of Mel in a less impressive picture?

None of it adds up, and I’m not saying it has to; if Mel wants to spend his money making B-level entertainment for the rest of his life, I’ll watch every single picture. Watching the 18-minute making-of featurette included on the Blu-ray (one of four on the disc, but the others are only 3-4 minutes long) makes it sound like that’s exactly what Gibson’s after. He, Grunberg and co-screenwriter Stacy Perskie describe coming up with the idea over dinner and then fleshing out the script over other friendly get-togethers. The prison and its inhabitants really seem to have peaked Gibson’s interest. It’s kind of cool to see the three men discuss it, even if social politics are never brought up.

More power to him if he wants to keep making pet projects like this. I’m just going to have to get a subscription to DirecTV.

RATING 6 / 10