Gringo (Nash Edgerton, 2018) 2 out of 4 stars.
Director Nash Edgerton brings us the first dark comedy of the new year with Gringo, starring David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, and Charlize Theron. Oyelowo plays Harold Soyinka, a good-natured middle manager of a giant pharmaceutical company led by Edgerton and Theron. When Harold discovers his bosses plan to leave him for broke while he is on a business trip in Mexico, he musters the courage and fakes his own kidnapping. Sadly, Harold learns quickly that his hair-brained scheme was ill-advised as the Mexican drug cartel and an ex-mercenary are all looking for him.
Gringo feels less like a border-crossing dark comedy and more like the kind of bad-vacation comedy Adam Sandler used to make around 2010. Scenes rarely connect to the overall story. Actors set against beautiful locations carry on laborious comedic shenanigans that are tolerable for no more than two seconds. After the thirty minute mark, you start to believe in the sneaking suspicion that this whole endeavor was an excuse for the filmmakers to get paid to go on vacation.
In place of Adam Sandler shtick and romantic-comedy clichés are the tired tropes and stereotypes of raunchy comedies of recent years. Plot lines including the Mexican drug cartel, corporate greed, and secret office affairs yank the story away from who it should have been focused on in the beginning: Harold. David Oyelowo wonderfully sells the immediate empathy of a man who is frustrated with his life not turning into the American life he’d hoped for. When we learn Harold is friends with Joel Edgerton’s self-absorbed Richard, our desire to pat him on the back and tell him there’s always tomorrow doesn’t germinate from the tragic history the two men share but how enjoyable it is to hate Richard.
Instead of more time spent with Richard and Harold’s friendship or seeing more of Harold’s failed attempts to cross the border before the cartel puts him out of his misery, Nash Edgerton becomes occupied with giving a soul to Theron’s Elaine Markinson. Much like Edgerton’s Richard, Elaine is a great villain to despise. She’s not subservient to Edgerton; she’s utterly confident in the skills she possesses to get what she wants and she knows it. The problem occurs when the script clumsily pushes her into a sympathetic light. We become so used to Elaine’s mean-spirited demeanor that the tonal switch in her arc feels downright offensive to our intelligence.
Nash Edgerton and writers Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone recognize the potential in commenting on the abhorrent agendas of big businesses and fragile relations between American and Mexico at the moment. Gringo’s first twenty minutes amazingly exhaust the few jokes that work and leaves behind an unpleasant hodgepodge of standard violence and foul-mouthed dialogue with little charm to speak of.