Review – Cartel comedy ‘Gringo’ loses sight of its enjoyably silly heart

Poster for 2018 comedy-thriller Gringo

Genre: Comedy
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 9th March 2018
Runtime: 110 minutes
Director: Nash Edgerton
Writer: Anthony Tambakis, Matthew Stone
Starring: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Thandie Newton, Amanda Seyfried, Sharlto Copley, Harry Treadaway
Synopsis: A middle-manager becomes trapped in a cartel kidnapping situation when his loathsome bosses’ attempts to make some cash from illegal dealings go awry.

 

 

It’s fair to describe the market for action-comedy films as somewhat saturated, and they’re seldom particularly funny. Inevitably, the comedy has to stop in order to allow the thriller elements of the story to move forward, and those thrills are equally undercut by the need to pepper the storytelling with sight gags and verbal quips. Often, it takes a filmmaker with the kinetic visual invention of Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Baby Driver) or the flawless joke-writing skills of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Jump Street) to make it work. Nash Edgerton, director of the latest genre mash-up Gringo, is certainly not that level of filmmaker. As a result, the movie is a big miss.

The problems come with the fact that Gringo makes the wrong tonal decision. Rather than leaning into comedy, it embraces action and thriller elements, despite the fact it’s obviously more comfortable shooting for laughs. That’s certainly true of David Oyelowo‘s central performance as Harold, who is a painfully subordinate middle manager at a pharmaceutical firm run by foul-mouthed suits Joel Edgerton – brother of director Nash – and Charlize Theron. When they aren’t shagging each other in the corner of the office, they’re selling an early version of their cannabis pill to the cartels, hoping to earn some cash on the side. A ‘business trip’ to Mexico culminates with Harold in captivity and mercenary Mitch (Sharlto Copley) hired to bring him home.

When it focuses on comedy, there are fun moments in Gringo. Almost everyone in the cast is better known for dramatic work than comedy, so there’s a frisson of excitement in seeing them dive headfirst into committed performances as silly caricatures. Oyelowo hams it up as Harold, complete with Nigerian accent and a scream so high-pitched that even the animated canines in the Isle of Dogs trailer were deafened by it. Theron, meanwhile, is a non-PC delight, spewing out insults as fruity as “turtle-dicked ass pirates” without a second thought and stealing all of her scenes.

The problem, though, is that the movie isn’t interested in all of that silliness. It instead wants to unravel an absurdly complicated heist plot, complete with fake kidnappings, real kidnappings, Mexican stand-offs and car chases. The plot is completely incoherent and impossible to follow, replete with entirely unnecessary subplots – Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway wander into the story at random intervals to almost no effect. If ever a script needed a few more passes for the sake of sense, this one did.

By the time the third act comes around, Gringo has resorted to the most basic of comedy-thriller tropes, culminating in a final 10 minutes that basically ensure every loose-end character gets a bullet in the head. The comedy highlight comes in the first few scenes when Oyelowo raps to Will Smith’s ‘Gettin’ Jiggy wit It’ in his car and then it’s all downhill from there. Then, they put a beautiful female character in a fat suit at the end and it’s the mid-noughties all over again.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Poop!

A remarkably starry A-list cast is squandered, despite game performances, in Gringo. It’s a comedy-thriller that puts the emphasis on the latter while being far more successful when it focuses on the former. David Oyelowo and Charlize Theron shine, but there are about a dozen plot threads too many and a severe lack of jokes once the story gets moving.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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