I had not seen a new Mel Gibson film since he went off the deep end a few years ago, but because I was such a big fan of his, I could not pass up the $7.50 Blu-Ray offer at Wal-Mart for his latest flick, the action-packed Get the Gringo. Very rarely do I buy movies that I have never seen, but this was well worth the risk as I found myself enjoying it from start to finish. Before I get into a summary of the film, let’s just say that this seemed like an 80’s action movie, meaning it was completely unrealistic in premise, yet entertaining as all hell. If I had to make a comparison, I would say it was like Payback meets Lethal Weapon meets Taken, considering the different plot twists and level of violence present. It is hard to believe this was a straight-to-video release in the United States, given the extremely high production value and $20 million budget that had the special effects of a present-day Hollywood blockbuster. The fact that this movie is so little-known and un-advertised is proof positive at how far down Mel Gibson’s career has fallen due to his outbursts and tirades over the years. Had he been in good standing with Hollywood, and had production companies and distributors not been afraid to touch any of his products, this would have easily been smash hit, no doubt pulling in at least $100 million. But alas, here we are, and even all these years later, Gibson’s penance in staying away from roles has not been enough. Say what you want about him, though, this was him at his action-thriller finest, bringing back the good old days when he was on top of the world.
Get the Gringo mostly takes place inside of a Mexican prison, one called “El Pueblito”, which was actually modeled off a real prison. Here, inmates are allowed to pay for their families to stay with them, and the prison itself is more like an enclosed village than what we think of as a jail today. There are stores, restaurants, bars, and no actual cells—prisoners can sleep outside on the ground or pay for their own room, while some even have money for an apartment-like set up. Whether or not the real prison this was based on allowed such freedoms, I do not know, but the setting allows for this film to really take off and get creative. Gibson is the “gringo” here, a derogatory term for a foreigner, and he must watch his back and scrounge up plenty of cash to stay alive. He has been buried in this jail because he stole $2 million from a crime boss, and the corrupt Mexican policemen who arrested him kept the money, meaning no one can know why Gibson’s character, who never gives his real name, is inside. This spurs numerous adventures and is the catalyst for the “payback” theme present throughout. Being a career criminal, he easily spots the corruption going on, and becomes friends with a street-wise, foul-mouthed ten-year old boy who is being held there with his mother because one of the prison big-whigs with a rare blood type soon needs a liver transplant, and this boy is the only one who fits the match, aside from his father who was killed for the same reason.
The film, which serves as the directorial debut for Adrian Grunberg (who worked as an assistant director on films such as Master and Commander, Traffic, and Apocalypto) weaves together action, humor, and ultra-believable prison corruption and spins it with some outlandish action scenes to provide solid entertainment for the entire 96 minutes. It begins with an exciting car chase, takes us through prison life, a wild journey of escape, and of course, a chance at redemption for those who have been wronged. Many moments in the film are simply too far-fetched to be possible, but that might be what makes this such a fun movie to watch. Appearing alongside Gibson as the boy and his mother are the wonderfully talented Kevin Hernandez and Dolores Heredia, and film veterans Bob Gunton and Peter Stormare in other roles. With all this praise, it is just a shame that it never got a wide release here (though it did very well oversees, released under the title How I Spent My Summer Vacation), so if you want to see it, check the shelves of your local film store—I have seen this everywhere. I have no doubt you will like it if you are a fan of action movies. With all its grit and thrills, this one will take you back. Just have a seat and enjoy the ride!
Also featured in Greg’s Blu-Ray Buying Guide, receiving a 4/5 score.