Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
The brothers Edgerton, Nash and Joel, unite for the dark comedy Gringo. Nash directs while Joel stars with Charlize Theron as a couple of the most insensitive and offensive jerks you have ever met on screen. Fortunately, they are balanced out some by the delight that is David Oyelowo in a top-notch comedic performance as a man on the run from kidnappers in Mexico.
Oyelowo is Harold Soyinka, a man whose belief that he has a happy marriage and a successful job is about to come crumbling down. Harold works for a major pharmaceutical company run by Edgerton and Theron’s power-hungry executives. He handles communications with their Mexico-based factory and is surprised when his bosses insist on joining him on his next business trip there. As it turns out, the company had been selling part of the product down there to the cartel, but now that they are making a profit decide they no longer need this connection and try to cut ties. Of course, this does not sit very well with the cartel.
As the face of the company in Mexico, Harold is pretty much left hung out to dry by this decision. But Harold is a bit too distracted to realize just how much trouble he is in, having recently learned that his wife is leaving him and that he will probably lose his job when the company merges with another. In one of the few proactive moves Harold makes in the movie, he decides to fake his own kidnapping in hopes that his employers will forward the ransom. He has overvalued his position in the company, however, and things do not go nearly as smoothly as he had planned.
David Oyelowo has proven to be an incredible talent in a number of recent dramas, including Selma, in which he played Martin Luther King, Jr., but Gringo is his first major opportunity to prove he can play comedy as well and he really goes for it. Harold mostly reacts to the events of the film rather than act on them, which makes him a fairly weak protagonist, but it hardly matters because his reactions to the often insane things going on around him are often priceless. Whether it is a shocked reaction to his bosses’ request that his “kidnappers” reduce their asking price for his return or his high-pitched squeals in reaction to the various acts of violence that occur throughout the film, his reactions help to keep the audience engaged. And Harold is such an incredibly nice guy, too, that you cannot help but root for him.
That is in direct contrast to the villains of the film played by Theron and Edgerton, whom you hate from the word go. The movie goes to such extremes to demonstrate how horrible these two characters are that eventually it grows rather tiresome. And one point, I felt like exclaiming towards the screen that “we get it already! They are horrible people!” Of course, it is generally preferable that we dislike our villains, but the best villains are the ones we love to hate. That is not the case here. We simply hate them.
With the exception of Sharlto Copley who shows up as a mercenary-turned-humanitarian hired by Edgerton to solve his Harold problem, the rest of the cast is mostly wasted. Amanda Seyfried, especially, is charming in her limited screentime, especially when she shares the screen with Oyelowo, but she and her on-screen boyfriend are mostly unnecessary to the plot and often feel like they are just there to pad the runtime.
The movie’s few action scenes are entertaining, even if some of the moments that were supposed to be surprising were telegraphed a little too much. And the movie finds an ending that feels satisfying, even if one of the characters doesn’t get the comeuppance we might have hoped for. Although this does prove a point the movie was trying to make in the middle about how this world often rewards despicable behavior.
The movie tries to push the envelope and does, but it is ultimately uneven. Instead of being consistently entertaining, there are highs and lows, with many of the lows being moments where they pushed the envelope a little too far. It is entertaining enough, but the highs are not quite high enough to recommend it being worth an expensive trip to the theater.
Gringo is now playing at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s The Landing 14.