By his own admission, actor David Oyelowo likes to mix it up when it comes to choosing his roles. After making his name playing Martin Luther King (Selma, 2014) and Seretse Khama (A United Kingdom, 2016), he turns his talents to comedy in Gringo. And you’ve gotta give the guy credit for trying.
He throws himself into the film with gusto, playing the gullible-to-the-point-of-naïve Harold, who works for high-flying friend Richard (Joel Edgerton) at his pharma multi-national. Unbeknown to him, the outfit is as dodgy as a nine bob note, with Richard and colleague Elaine (Charlize Theron) up to their necks in an illegal drug racket. On business south of the border, Harold faces the fact that his life is unravelling and then finds himself taken hostage. Cue a rescuer in the shape of Richard’s brother, former mercenary Mitch (Sharlto Copley), who is cheaper than forking out for the ransom.
It’s a premise that sets us up for a high octane, punchy comedy. Admittedly, director Nash Edgerton, making his first film for ten years, gets energetic performances from his cast but the sad truth is that what Gringo wants to be and what it is are two very different things. In aiming to be action packed and funny, it turns out to be uneven and mildly amusing. It also has the hallmarks of a film made to fit around the other commitments of the main members of the cast, with the exception of Oyelowo, who is almost constantly on screen. The first half is all about Edgerton and Theron, but in the second part they’ve all but disappeared and the focus is very much on Copley. It’s left to Oyelowo to carry the film pretty much single handed as the unlikely survivor of all the chaos around him and, thankfully, he’s up to it.
Given the talents involved, there’s always the hope that the film might really take off at any moment. There are times when gets close but it’s a case of failure to launch. The action sequences work fine, but are nothing special and don’t exactly get the pulse racing. The humour raises a smile from time to time but the sub-plot involving Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway is instantly forgettable.
Which leaves the main characters and it’s only thanks to their performances that the film remains watchable. Theron is back in Atomic Blonde mode – white shirt with plunging neckline and ill-concealed black lingerie. She must be a strong woman because she keeps using the F-word. Edgerton enjoys himself playing a rat of the first order, but it’s no real stretch for him. Oyelowo has his moments as the mild mannered Harold and is nicely convincing, meeting his acting match in Copley, who attacks his role with such relish that it’s impossible not to go along with him for the ride.
But none of them can disguise that Gringo is a mish-mash that over-relies on its cast to be likeable. There’s not enough action or humour for it to fit into either category. It’s only a couple of weeks since Game Night showed that cinematic comedy is still alive and kicking. But it’s dozed off again for Gringo, which is in need of some proper Mexican spice to wake it up.
Freda Cooper |
Action, Comedy, Thriller | 15 | UK, 9 March (2018) | STX International | Dir. Nash Edgerton| David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Sharlto Copley, Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway.