In the late ’90s and early aughts, the surprise success of Pulp Fiction prompted a spate of indie, pseudo-noir films defined by their quirky protagonists and shady, heist-driven plot lines. These films were of varying quality, to say the least. Some, like the Elmore Leonard adaptation Get Shorty, proved to be almost watchable seemingly in spite of themselves. Others, like derivative late-period entries Lucky Number Slevin or Smokin’ Aces, were deservedly relegated to the trash heap of cinema history, doomed to be forgotten entirely unless some sadistic critic were cruel enough to recall them to memory. Regardless of their position along this spectrum, all of these films shared one commonality: They were blatant B-list cash-grabs. Enter Nash Edgerton’s Gringo, severely late to the game.
Edgerton and screenwriter Matthew Stone have crafted a world of aggressive mediocrity, one in which the gross inadequacies of their characters are equaled only by those of the filmmakers themselves. It’s not simply that Gringo is a bad film; it’s that it’s bland, soulless and redundant. To produce something this overwrought, this joyless, must have been an agonizing endeavor for all involved. With that in mind, it makes a certain kind of sense that Edgerton conned his own brother into starring as the ostensible villain of the piece.
Edgerton (Joel, not Nash) plays a pharma bro only separated by the Shkrelis of the world by his inability to succeed on a grand enough scale to placate his own ego. Into that particular breach steps college chum and unwitting patsy Harold (David Oyelowo), basically playing a Nigerian Jerry Lewis to Edgerton’s puffier Dean Martin. The plot from there devolves into an improbably gory quest into cartel country for some mystical marijuana MacGuffin that will facilitate Edgerton and partner Charlize Theron’s continued wealth at the expense of Harold’s job and potentially his life.
I can’t say Gringo is all bad — Oyelowo at least seems to have a good time stretching his legs in the hammiest role I’ve ever seen him play. Theron similarly stands out, seeming to be shooting for a less sultry Rita Hayworth from the third act of The Lady From Shanghai, though she’s constantly forced to mine the limited depths of her character’s shallow backstory in a valiant attempt to find an emotional core to work with. But Sharlto Copley is almost entirely wasted as Edgerton’s ex-mercenary brother, Thandie Newton might as well not be here, and the less said of the supporting cast, the better.
Edgerton (Nash, not Joel) somehow manages to misuse his entire ensemble cast, despite their relative strengths, to some purpose that evades me. I’m not sure if I’ve ever checked my watch as early or as often as I did during the unduly long 110 minutes of Gringo, at least in a film that didn’t quite put me to sleep. If it seems as if the name “Edgerton” has been oft-repeated in this review, it’s because that’s what this film seems to be about — an Edgerton family vanity project with no other reason to exist. Rated R for language throughout, violence and sexual content.
Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.