[Screen It]


(2018) (David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton) (R)

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Black Comedy: Efforts to get a pharmaceutical company's cannabis pill out of Mexico and into the U.S. throw various people's lives into turmoil.
Richard Rusk (JOEL EDGERTON) and Elaine Markinson (CHARLIZE THERON) are the ruthless co-owners of a pharmaceutical company and they want to get their cannabis pill out of the Mexican plant where it's produced and distribute it across America via a number of business partners, including Jerry (ALAN RUCK). Accordingly, they and their operations supervisor, Harold Soyinka (DAVID OYELOWO), travel across the border to inform the plant's supervisor, Celerino Sanchez (HERNÁN MENDOZA), that they'll no longer be supplying drugs to Villegas (CARLOS CORONA), a cartel kingpin known as The Black Panther. Harold isn't aware of that previous arrangement, although he's worried about his job security what with his wife, Bonnie (THANDIE NEWTON), racking up a lot of debt with her fledgling, one-client business.

When Harold happens to overhear that he's going to be let go and then learns that his wife is having an affair and is leaving him, he decides he can't return home. Instead, he checks into a cheap motel and decides to fake his own kidnapping with the help of the siblings who run the motel, Ronaldo Gonzalez (DIEGO CATANO) and Ernesto Gonzalez (RODRIGO COREA), and a staged call to Richard featuring a $5 million dollar ransom. Knowing that his humanitarian aid brother, Mitch (SHARLTO COPLEY), used to be a mercenary, Richard calls him up for help in getting Harold out of that situation.

Unbeknownst to them, Villegas isn't happy to hear that Richard is cutting off his drug supply and thus has his men, including Angel Valverde (YUL VAZQUEZ), looking for Harold who can unlock a safe with his fingerprint and thus give the drug lord access to Richard's product and its formula. At the same time, guitar shop employee Miles (HARRY TREADAWAY) has accepted an unrelated offer to serve as a drug mule and likewise smuggle Richard's product across the border into America, with his girlfriend, Sunny (AMANDA SEYFRIED), completely unaware of that plan.

From that point on, the various lives of those various characters intersect, with the outcome of how it will all play out being anything but certain.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
You know the old saying about too many cooks in the kitchen? Well, that can also apply to the number of ingredients in a recipe as well, whether that's culinary or cinematically based. Yes, it's never a good sign when you see five or more screenwriters credited for penning some flick. But it can also be troublesome when there are too many characters and storylines thrown into a screenplay as things can get messy due to everyone and everything competing to dominate the overall taste of the offering.

Such is the case in "Gringo," a black comedy that doesn't suffer from too many scribes -- there are just two in Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone -- but instead simply has too many roles and story threads for its or our own good. It's not awful, but you can't escape the feeling that it needed another pass or two through the rewrite process and later editing booth to make it as tasty as all involved likely hoped and believed it was going to be.

There's David Oyelowo playing Harold, a mild-mannered operations supervisor for a pharmaceutical company doing manufacturing business in Mexico who learns in one day that he's going to lose both his job and his wife. In turn, and believing he now has nothing back home, he decides to fake his own kidnapping with the help of two siblings -- played by Diego Catano and Rodrigo Corea -- who run a small hotel where he's now holed up.

That throws his boss (played by Joel Edgerton) for a loop. After all, he was his friend before hiring him for the job, but he's also a ruthless businessman who also happens to be sleeping with his friend's wife (Thandie Newton). That is, when he's not sleeping with his business partner (Charlie Theron) who's equally as ruthless, whether that's trying to land a business partner (Alan Ruck) to distribute their cannabis pill or not believing Harold is worth the ransom number he's shouted over the phone.

The boss decides to contact his estranged mercenary turned humanitarian relief work brother (Sharlto Copley) to see if he can perform an extraction, while a local cartel kingpin (Carlos Corona) -- when not questioning others about their feelings toward the Beatles and their various albums -- wants to keep Richard around for his fingerprint that will open a company safe and give him access to the product. Others are also interested in the drug, including a guitar shop dude (Harry Treadaway) who agrees to perform as a drug mule in exchange for $20,000, while his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) thinks they're just going to Mexico for a quick bit of vacay.

Throw in Hernan Mendoza playing a family man who runs the Mexican pharma production plant and Yul Vazquez playing a cartel guy with a secret interest in the drug and that's a lot of plates that the scribes and director, Nash Edgerton (Joel's brother), have to keep running back and forth between while attempting to keep them all spinning in unison. At times, they succeed, but at others, it simply feels like there's too much going on and some of the characters and their storylines feel superfluous.

Considering the genre and Oyelowo's "if it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all" character, I also would have liked to have seen more comedy infused into various scenes along with the overall vibe. There are moments and tinges of that throughout, but I think the flick would have worked better and ended up more entertaining with a greater amount. Not to mention those aforementioned additional passes through the writing and editing stages to par everything down and sharpen it into the sort of slick offering where everything just works, as was the case with the remake of "Ocean's Eleven" (but not the sequels). That film also had lots of roles, but everything worked nearly perfectly and as efficiently as possible.

Here, there's still too much fat that needed to be trimmed away, although I have to admit enjoying the ending (including a fun mariachi version of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" during the closing credits). I can't say I was ever bored and I did find myself entertained just enough throughout to give "Gringo" a middle of the road 5 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed March 7, 2018 / Posted March 9, 2018

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