Main cast: David Oyelowo (Harold Soyinka), Joel Edgerton (Richard Rusk), Charlize Theron (Elaine Markinson), Amanda Seyfried (Sunny), Thandie Newton (Bonnie Soyinka), Sharlto Copley (Mitch Rusk), Paris Jackson (Nelly), Yul Vazquez (Angel Valverde), Alan Ruck (Jerry), Harry Treadaway (Miles), Kenneth Choi (Marty), Melonie Diaz (Mia), Diego Cataño (Ronaldo), Hector Kotsifakis (Roberto Vega), Bashir Salahuddin (Stu), and Carlos Corona (Black Panther)
Director: Nash Edgerton
Harold Soyinka is the nicest guy one can meet. In fact, look up the word “cuck” and you most likely will see his photo in the dictionary entry. He works in middle-management for Cannabax Technologies, brought in by his good friend Richard Rusk who also co-owns the company with Elaine Markinson. Okay, Elaine despises him, but that woman hates everyone. Sure, Harold’s wife Bonnie is bleeding his money dry, leaving him precariously at the brink of bankruptcy with her incessant spending on who knows what, but he’s taking everything in stride, biting his tongue and all. It is when he goes to Mexico to look into some missing inventory, followed by Richard and Elaine, that the crap eventually hits the fan for him.
That’s right, in Gringo, poor Harold will soon be slapped in the face with a consecutive series of harsh truths. One, Richard isn’t his benevolent friend as much as a self-serving asshole who exploits Harold’s naïveté for his own gains – Richard is, in fact, sleeping with Harold’s wife and poor Harold is the last to know – the man still doesn’t know even after Bonnie announces that she is leaving him. Behind Harold’s back, Richard and Elaine have a cozy thing going on with the local drug dealer, Black Panther, and now that they are planning to sell off the company, they wants to personally tell their Mexican proxy to sever all ties with that man. What, you think they will storm a wildly unpredictable drug boss on their own?
When Harold realizes that (a) Richard has lied and the man is indeed planning to sell off the company and have Harold fired along with everyone else and (b) Bonnie is having an affair and she is leaving him, he decides to stage his own kidnapping and demand five million dollars from Richard and Elaine. Richard decides to ask his brother, ex-mercenary turned humanitarian Mitch, to go to Mexico and save Harold instead, since that will be cheaper than paying the ransom. Wait, Richard realizes that Harold’s death will force the insurance company to pay Cannabax five million dollars – okay, Mitch can kill him, thanks!
Meanwhile, the idiot Miles is asked to be a drug mule – to go to Mexico and smuggle something back. He brings his oblivious girlfriend Sunny along. Black Panther does not want to lose his cozy access to drugs, especially when Cannabax Technologies has developed a weed pill that is poised to make a lot of money to whomever that manufactures that thing, so he also sends his people after Harold. Yes, Harold, because only his thumbprint can grant access to the off-limit corners of the Cannabax Mexican plant. Like it or not, poor Harold will find himself having a wild ride in Mexico…
If the whole thing sounds convoluted, well, it actually isn’t that bad to me. I find it easy to follow Gringo despite having no idea whatsoever about the plot when I sit down in the cinema with my overpriced drink and popcorn. What I do find, though, is that there are many things in the plot that feel unnecessary. For example, the Miles thing can be easily removed from the story. Many secondary characters show up, hog screen time, and then are deposed off unceremoniously, making me wonder whether the people behind the movie are trolling me. And I wish I can say that this movie is about how we should all be careful of the nice ones, but Harold doesn’t earn his happy ending here. The one time he tries to take control of his life, it doesn’t work, and he spends the rest of the movie just bumbling around and being played by the various people around him. Harold is just lucky he ends up where he is in the end – he doesn’t have much say here when it comes to his destiny.
Hence, in the end, the movie feels more self-indulgent than anything else – an excuse for the people behind the movie to show off how smart they think they are. Alas, this one isn’t smart at all. It isn’t funny or caustic enough to give those Quentin Tarantino-esque crime comedies out there a run for their money, and there are no smart or fresh twists at the end to make me go, “Ooh! Neat!” In fact, the fates of the characters in this movie can be correctly predicted five minutes after meeting them. Let’s just say that Gringo doesn’t try to reinvent the crime comedy genre or keep things fresh – it seems determined to come off instead as a wannabe that stumbles as much as it tries.
Still, the cast makes Gringo easy to watch. Charlize Theron isn’t breaking any new grounds by playing the amoral bitch here, but she chews scenery with relish. Joel Edgerton dishes out smarm and unlikely sex appeal with equal aplomb, while David Oyelowo plays the wide-eyed fellow who nonetheless is nowhere as gullible as everything thinks just right. But they are all wasted on a movie that seems content to go through the motions, and not very well at that.