The Mexican isn’t really a bad movie, but it isn’t really a good one, either. It’s one of those films where you’re mildly entertained, but can’t keep from wondering, “Who thought this was a really good idea?” And why on earth did anyone opt to co-star the potentially sexually explosive Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts and then keep them from sharing the screen for most of the film? The concept is nothing to get excited about: Jerry Wellbach (Pitt) is a small-time crook (and not a very good or bright one) who — mostly to please his girlfriend, Samantha (Roberts) — is trying to get out of the mob. Having bungled his last supposedly final job for the gang, he is given a second final job — the task of bringing an antique gun called The Mexican and the man who has it back across the border from Mexico. This presumably simple task is immediately complicated by the fact that his girlfriend will not accept him taking this final job (somewhat unreasonably, since the alternative is Pitt being placed in the proverbial cement overshoes), unceremoniously dumps him and his worldly goods into the street, and sets off on her own for Vegas to pursue her dream of becoming a croupier (hey, I didn’t write the script). Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg of the complexities. The gun in question supposedly has a curse on it. Jerry is no more competent in this job than in his previous criminal forays. Lots of other disreputable characters also want the valuable firearm, so Samantha gets kidnapped on the assumption that whoever has her can control Jerry’s moves. And so it goes. In all fairness, much of this is cleverly written and played, and the characters and performers are appealing — especially Roberts’ Samantha and James Gandolfini’s gay hitman, Leroy (probably the most completely realized character in the film). Brad Pitt, on the other hand, isn’t especially well-served. His role calls on him to look cute and act stupid. Admittedly, he does both effortlessly, but the part is so underwritten that he may as well have phoned in the performance — and, but for showing off his dimples sometimes, seems to have done just that. Director Gore Verbinski (best known for his work in TV commercials) manages to keep the film moving fast enough that it’s usually possible to overlook the frequently confusing and confused plot (just who is on whose side is often in doubt, and a lengthy explanation by Gene Hackman’s character late in the film doesn’t really sort things out). Verbinkski also shows a degree of stylishness — especially in the clever silent-movie style flashbacks tracing the history of the gun — and his handling of Julia Roberts’ close-ups reveals a masterful knowledge of lighting and composition, probably born of his training in commercials. Roberts — a more distinctive-looking woman than a traditionally pretty one — often looks almost drab in the film’s long shots, but Verbinski’s close-ups magically transform her into something glorious to behold. This is no mean feat, considering the fact that Roberts’ costumer needs a severe pummeling for dressing her in fashions John Waters would reject as too tacky: Just take a squint at the green skirt/pink sweater/orange jacket “ensemble” she sports for too much of the film, and you’ll know what horror really means. Verbinski’s plusses to one side, he seems to have a distinctive — and distinctively peculiar — penchant for staging scenes with his actors perched on toilets. At least one of these curious scenes is obviously scripted, but there are at least five others that don’t seem to necessarily call for the approach. If this is some form of thematic preoccupation on Verbinski’s part, I’m not sure I want to know about it. The Mexican is harmless enough, some of it is funny, some of it works, and it’s usually nice to look at — but it’s about as far from a “must-see” as you can get.
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