There is something of a throwback feel to Gringo that brings to mind the madcap crime capers of the 1990s. Former Ewan McGregor stunt double, Nash Edgerton returns to the director’s chair for the second time with an action comedy that owes a debt to the early work of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers.
The film follows Harold (David Oyelowo), a middle management office employee who works for Cannabax, a company developing the first medical marijuana pill. He travels with his bosses Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine (Charlize Theron) to Mexico to assist with some business dealings. There he finds out that they plan to fire him and that Richard has been having an affair with his wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton). Angry, Harold pretends to be kidnapped and asks his bosses to pay a $5 million ransom. In an attempt to rescue Harold, Richard contacts his brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley) – a Matthew McConaughey lookalike who was given up his life as a mercenary and is living as an aid worker in Haiti – and asks him to safely evacuate his employee from the country.
Meanwhile Sunny (Amanda Seyfried) and Miles (Harry Treadaway), two music store workers who have been tasked with smuggling Cannabax’s pill from its Mexico factory to a rival company in the US, find themselves unwittingly involved with the fake kidnapping and the drug cartels.
In general, the storytelling is muddled and a little messy. Often important information is not revealed until after it is relevant. For some reason we do not find out what Cannabax does until Richard and Elaine have left Mexico and have returned to their Chicago offices. As a result it is difficult to be invested in the opening scenes as you are not quite sure what is going on.
At the same time the entire sub plot involving Sunny and Miles feels irrelevant and adds little to the story. The more you think about the plot twists the more convoluted and badly throughout the script feels. Possibly playing off the success of Narcos, the film tries to combine a zany narrative with black humour and gritty action but lacks the conviction, skill, or subtlety to make it work. In other hands it could have been a sharp satire about corporate greed and relations between Mexico and the US. Instead it is full of mixed messages and inconsistent jokes.
Gringo’s shortcomings are highlighted when compared with American Made which came out last year. It similarly covered drug smuggling and the complications associated to it, but worked because it had likable characters and well thought out gags. It was always enjoyable, well crafted, and surprisingly funny. There was never a dull moment and you always felt that something was on the line.
The biggest problem with Gringo is not its underdeveloped script or lack of funny moments but that it is hard to care for its characters. Kidnappings and actions sequences are only exciting if you are invested in their outcomes. Despite having a likable cast everything feels rather empty and soulless.
In the end the entire film feels a little pointless. Gringo may attempt to be edgy and subversive but instead comes across as cold and misjudged.