Mel Gibson hasn’t played Movie Star Mel Gibson in a long time.
Never mind the off-screen headlines. It’s been ages since Gibson was the on-screen rascal, the guy who could throw a few wild-angle punches and leave the bad guys scratching their heads.
Well, that Gibson makes a roaring return in “Get the Gringo,” a new film available exclusively on DirecTV.
“Gringo” isn’t in the same league as the first two “Lethal Weapon” films, and some of the final act plot devices are so corny they’d get tossed from a “Hee Haw” sketch. But the film’s garish setting – a Mexican prison community – and a few inspired action scenes make it a fine way to open the VOD market up for major movie talent.
Gibson stars as Driver, a thief who crashes his car through a border fence separating the U.S. from Mexico in the film’s opening moments. He figures he’ll have an easier time with the latter country’s legal system, but he ends up in a jail unlike anything he expected.
“Is this a prison or the shittiest mall in the world?” Driver asks. It’s more like an isolated community full of corruption and despair. Driver has more freedom here to work his illegal tricks. He’s also aware of the dangers lurking from every dank alley.
It doesn’t help that he had millions in stolen cash with him when he crashed through the border, and now a number of unsavory types want to find out where the money ended up.
Meanwhile, Driver befriends a 10-year-old (a game Kevin Hernandez) and his comely mamacita (Dolores Heredia), the latter existing to give Gibson a lazily sketched love interest. Their connection to the criminals running the prison is one of several intriguing elements spicing up this gritty action thriller.
The prison arena itself is both visually captivating, albeit in a vile fashion, and compelling. We see prisoners “enjoy” conjugal visits out in the open in tiny tents and dog-like kennels covered by tarp and blankets. Illegal drugs can be had for the right price, and people stumble along, their bowed shoulders telling us they have little hope for tomorrow.
Gibson isn’t breaking a sweat in “Gringo.” The role fits snugly in his “can do” list, and while he looks beaten down and world weary he’s still Mel Gibson, stoic and handsome. The actor’s bone-dry narration offers a few laughs and the occasional grown – he calls a pajama-clad boss El Jef-ner. His Driver reeks of career criminal detritus, but he works under the kind of cinematic moral code that allows him to bond with the young lad while gaining our sympathies.
The film threatens that bond when Driver picks up some unique talents late in the film, including a celebrity impression that feels like very bad improv.
“Get the Gringo” isn’t a media game changer. It’s simply proof that the modes of distribution are changing, and watching Gibson revisit his early screen persona can be just as satisfying as many of the films featured on your neighborhood theater’s marquee.