Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Gringo is a mess of a film with a bunch of different story threads and lots of characters that it has no idea what to do with. It is a dark comedy that is neither funny nor dramatic and strands good actors playing unpleasant characters in a story with far more moving pieces than it actually requires.
The main story follows Harold (David Oyelowo, who also provides a voice in this weekend’s A Wrinkle in Time), a middle manager at a pharmaceutical company. His bosses are Richard (Joel Edgerton, recently seen in the far more interesting Red Sparrow), a slimy conman who claims to be Harold’s friend, and Elaine (Charlize Theron, who will show up again next month in the comedy Tully), a cynical drunk who is sleeping with Richard. They accompany Harold on his regular trip to a plant in Mexico so they can end their illegal deal with the plant’s manager who has been selling their product to a cartel. Harold knows about none of this and, unwittingly, becomes a target of the eccentric, Beatles obsessed, revenge-minded drug lord known as The Black Panther (Carlos Corona).
Also involved in all this is Harold’s selfish wife, Bonnie (Thandie Newton, from the HBO series Westworld), Richard’s brother, Mitch (Sharlto Copley), a former mercenary and Miles (Harry Treadaway, co-star of the television show Mr. Mercedes), a guitar store employee who agrees to pick up some drugs in Mexico for extra cash and takes along his innocent girlfriend, Sunny (Amanda Seyfried, who co-stars in this summer’s Mamma Mia sequel, Here We Go Again).
The film gives time to all of these characters and stories, even though several of them serve no purpose at all. I guess that would not be a problem if they were interesting on their own, but none of them are. The only actors who bring any energy to this material are Oyelowo as the naïve Harold and the always unpredictable Copley as the, unfortunately, extremely underwritten Mitch. That character could have been the livewire needed to give a spark to Gringo in its second half. Instead, he is just slightly odd, like pretty much everyone else in this movie, and wastes Copley's bizarre charisma.
Richard is a workout freak, obsessed with his personal success at any cost. He is mean and not in a funny way. Theron, as Elaine, gives it her all as a woman as morally flexible as Richard, willing to use her sexuality to get what she wants. She is certainly game, but her swearing and propositioning of Richard is not as funny as the filmmakers seem to think it is.
The only characters not given silly quirks are Miles and Sunny. Seyfried has a sweet presence on the screen, but these characters are completely superfluous. They could easily have been cut from the film with no loss to the main story.
Gringo (103 minutes, not including the end credits) is trying to be a wacky dark comedy about a good man thrown around by the corruption of the world. But Harold is not particularly sympathetic (he is way too quick to give in to his worst impulses) and the comedy is desperate and unoriginal. There are a few funny moments and Oyelowo really does give it his all with a performance that deserved a much better movie. It is one of those movies loaded with ideas when fewer would have allowed the ones used to be better developed. Put all together in one poorly constructed film, none of them really work.
1½ out of 5
David Oyelowo as Harold Soyinka
Joel Edgerton as Richard Rusk
Charlize Theron as Elaine Markinson
Thandie Newton as Bonnie Soyinka
Sharlto Copley as Mitch Rusk
Amanda Seyfried as Sunny
Harry Treadaway as Miles
Carlos Corona as The Black Panther
Directed by Nash Edgerton
Screenplay by Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone