GRINGO review by Mark Walters – David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron & Joel Edgerton run drugs

GRINGO review by Mark Walters – David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron & Joel Edgerton run drugs

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Amazon Studios and STX Entertainment seem to be releasing some pretty great stuff into theaters, and the new film GRINGO may be one of the most intriguing yet for a variety of reasons. It’s an action film, and it’s a comedy (albeit a dark one), and it features surprising performances from some of today’s hottest talents. David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Sharlto Copley, Amanda Seyfried, Yul Vazquez, Alan Ruck, Kenneth Choi and Thandie Newton make up the impressive ensemble here, and the movie is directed by Joel’s brother Nash Edgerton, who is not only a masterful stuntman but has proven himself to be a talented director on both short films and narrative features… see THE SQUARE (2008) for proof. The tone of GRINGO is a little mixed, comedic moments peppered in what seems like some pretty deadly scenarios, but if you’ve seen Nash’s short films you’d know he’s got a pretty dark sense of humor.

Harold Soyinka (Oyelowo) is a humble Nigerian man working for an American pharmaceutical company in Chicago, coping with his disconnected wife Bonnie (Newton) and her expensive habits, and his boss Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) who claims to be his buddy but may in truth not value him all that much. Rusk and company co-head Elaine Markinson (Theron) are secretly entertaining a major merger that could benefit them greatly, but would leave Harold without a job. When asked to take a routine company check-up trip down to Mexico, Harold is reluctant sensing his job’s fate, and even less comfortable when Richard and Elaine insist on tagging along with him. While there he confirms his fears, and disappears on his bosses just as the trip wraps up. He then concocts a sloppy plan to fool them into thinking he’s been kidnapped and held for ransom, only this backfires when he’s told the company insurance policy on him that would cover this sort of thing was allowed to lapse, further proving he’s been taking all those trips to Mexico without any sort of protection. His personal life simultaneously falls apart, leaving Harold to wonder what he would even be returning home for… but things get a lot more serious rather quickly when the local drug cartel leader is made aware of his presence, and the fact that Harold has access to the company lab and product within Mexico. Very soon our hero’s attempted fake peril starts to look like a real scenario, and no one there to save him.

GRINGO is a rather funny movie that never feels like a straightforward comedy, but rather a thriller with some very amusing moments and characters. It’s extremely fun watching David Oyelowo, who almost always plays serious roles, show a more comedic side playing a sort of bumbling loser. His role of Harold is very much that of an underdog – an under-appreciated husband and employee who never seems to catch a break, yet still has this undeniable charm. There’s a moment toward the start of the film where he’s driving to work singing along as Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” plays on the radio, and you just can’t help but immediately like this guy. On the opposite side of that is Joel Edgerton and Charlize Theron, playing the absolute worst kind of corporate douchebags who walk all over the little people and get away with murder. Theron especially seems to be having fun ramping up the bitchy qualities of her reading with Elaine, a seductive shark who is unfulfilled in her private life, but isn’t above screwing over someone, even if she has feelings for that person. Edgerton’s take on Rusk is a little more pathetic and selfish, the kind of man who tells everyone what they need to hear while he’s taking more than his fair share. It’s hard to tell who is the bigger villain between the two, as they both do their best at being nasty with just about every scenario they’re faced with. Amanda Seyfried plays a woman dragged into the middle of the Mexico-based madness by her boyfriend, who is up to no good while there, but her role isn’t quite as developed as it probably should have been. Thandie Newton has an even smaller and more thankless role as Harold’s problematic wife, and Alan Ruck (who most remember as “Cameron” from FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF) has a fun recurring role as the man behind the potential company merger, falling victim to Elaine’s seductive tactics. But one of the best characters in the film (aside from Harold) is played by Sharlto Copley as Richard Rusk’s former mercenary brother who is trying to live a more noble life helping those in need in Haiti, but is called back to his old ways by his desperate sibling when Harold goes missing. Copley plays the role quite well, walking the line between skilled badass and hapless hit man, and ends up being one of the best parts of the film.

Nash Edgerton has delivered his engaging and sometimes frenetic style to the proceedings, giving GRINGO a brisk pace and enjoyable feel. It’s dark and sometimes shocking when it needs to be, but keeps you smiling and laughing most of the time. Again, I wouldn’t call this a comedy simply because there are multiple scenes where you’re not likely to be laughing, but when the script calls for humor it really excels at it. A few of the characters could have benefit from a bit more backstory, but overall the story balances the important aspects quite well. There’s elements here that remind me of some of the more gritty 1980s R-rated comedies like 48 HOURS or the first BEVERLY HILLS COP, or perhaps even a bit of MIDNIGHT RUN. I hope this opens the door for Oyelowo to do more comedic roles, and more importantly shows how strong of a director Nash Edgerton has become. He handles A-list talent beautifully, and knows how to make a fun cinematic experience. We’re barely into the third month of 2018, but this is already likely to be on my “favorites of the year” list.

GRINGO opens March 9, 2018

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.