I don’t know stuntman-turned-director Nash Edgerton’s life, but Gringo does not feel like a movie created by someone who has ever actually been to Mexico. Or, let me refine that—a movie created by someone who has ever actually been to Mexico and thought to pay attention to more than kidnapping scares and cartel nightmares. Theoretically Gringo is a comedy, but unless you think David Oyelowo’s high-pitched screaming and Charlize Theron’s foul-mouthed sexual come-ons are hilarious, then you’ll laugh as little as I did.
This movie is trying to tell three or four stories at the same time with an ever-increasing cast of characters, but mostly all of the characters are abhorrent, and each subplot lasts too long. The film focuses on the titular “gringo,” Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), a middle-management executive at the Chicago company Promethium Pharmaceuticals who is swimming in debt. His accountant tells him Harold is in the red mostly because of his wife, Bonnie (Thandie Newton), an interior designer whose only client is Harold’s boss, the co-president of Promethium, Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton), and who has rung up $18,000 in unpaid credit card bills alone.
But Bonnie and Richard are the only people Harold has in his life, and he thinks he owes particularly everything to the latter, who gave him his job. Yet when Richard starts acting weird—keeping Harold out of meetings, accompanying him to a trip to their Mexican factory, which Harold had previously managed alone—Harold starts getting suspicious. And it doesn’t help that Richard and the company’s other co-president, Elaine Markinson (Theron, of the upcoming Tully), are raging assholes who belittle Harold and talk down to their Mexican employees at every opportunity.
“Yo quiero Taco Bell,” Richard says to his Mexican employee to prove that he’s conversational in Spanish (he’s not); “Do they not sell condoms down here?” Elaine sneers when she arrives in another employee’s office, which is positively covered with photos of children, and then follows it up with “If you can take care of 35 kids, I think you can handle one drug dealer.”
Because, yup, Promethium is somehow tangled with a drug-dealing cartel down in Mexico, and the deal that Richard and Elaine are planning does not include Harold. But the way that Harold plans to get them back—a faked kidnapping, for which he is demanding a $5 million ransom that could help him run away from his disappointing life in Chicago and start again—becomes more complicated than he planned. So Richard and Elaine are trying to con Harold, Harold is trying to con them, Richard is also conning Elaine, Elaine finds out a secret that turns her against Richard, and then there are subplots with underwritten characters for Amanda Seyfried (who will hopefully have more to do in Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, a wish I never thought I would put out into the universe) and Sharlto Copley, and there are also plenty of unnamed Mexican characters who stand around waiting to either steal from one of the Americans or get shot by cartel members. Because Mexicans, they’re all criminals, didn’t you know?
Gringo is trying to be a black comedy, but its sense of humor is fundamentally ugly. The female characters are all hoodwinked by men and driven to extremes because of it—one of them gains weight, one of them is a hardened bitch (because of daddy issues, of course). Pretty much all the men aside from Harold are aggressively selfish and totally casual about murder. And Harold himself is given a “nice guys finish last” narrative that doesn’t allow for any real depth or nuance. In his only conversation with Seyfried’s character, he shares with her that his Nigerian uncle is one of those email scammers who asks for Americans to send him money, and he’s become really successful because of it, while his father is a poor man. It’s unclear whether we’re supposed to respect the uncle for going after what he wants or judge the father for being naïve and passing his ethical code down to his hapless son. Which is it? What is Gringo actually trying to say about, well, anything?
For the most part, it’s low-key racist and sexist, like when Bill Maher appears in a cameo to say of Harold, “Chicago, Nigeria, Mexico—I’m surprised the guy lasted as long as he did,” or when Richard says to Harold, “Your life is gonna look like a rap video,” or when Seyfried’s character asks of Harold, “You have a really cool accent. Are you Jamaican?” (Seyfried’s other most unfortunate line of dialogue is when she excitedly tells Harold, “I love Harry Potter, I’ve read every single book!” Yeah, girl, you and most children.) In trying to present a cast of characters in which pretty much everyone is terrible, Nash Edgerton also fails to make any of them interesting, relatable, or even believable, using his Mexican setting and its citizens as props in a boring story about capitalist greed.
Oh yeah, and Paris Jackson is in this. I don’t know why, either.