Entertainment Movies

Sunday 24 September 2017

Gringo star

Paul Whitington

How i spent my summer vacation

(16, general release, 96 minutes)

Director: Adrian Grunberg Stars: Mel Gibson, Peter Stormare, Tenoch Huerta, Daniel Giménez Cacho

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For reasons that I cannot fathom, How I Spent My Summer Vacation will not be released at all in American cinemas, and will go straight to pay-per-view video under the original (and much better) title of Get the Gringo.

The studio, Icon, may be too jittery to invest heavily in a project involving Mel Gibson, whose star has fallen dramatically in recent years, thanks mainly to himself.

There seems to be a belief that people don't want to go and see him in big films any more, but I would question that contention: for all his sins, Mel has more charisma in his little finger than most of the younger pretenders, and has a better facility for jokey action films than anyone bar Bruce Willis.

He's hugely enjoyable in this knowingly trashy but entertaining and very funny action romp set mainly in the unspeakably bleak environs of a Mexican prison.

Gibson is 'Driver', an American career criminal who's on the run after robbing a bank when he crashes through the Mexican-American border fence in a car full of cash and ends up in the hands of the Federales.

They take the money and leave him stranded in El Pueblito, a vast, teeming cesspool of a prison that used to be the scourge of the border town of Tijuana until it was closed down in 2002.

As the only gringo inmate, Driver stands out like a sore thumb, and must think fast if he's going to survive and find a way of getting his money back.

Kevin Hernandez co-stars as a street-smart 10-year-old kid who lives in the prison compound with his mother (Dolores Heredia), and befriends Driver and helps him navigate his way towards the most powerful inmate in the joint.

A sub-plot involving a hoodlum in need of a liver transplant who targets the boy because they share a blood type is frankly ludicrous, and worthy of a sub-standard 1980s straight-to-video B-picture.

But, in a way, How I Spent My Summer Vacation's trashiness is part of its charm: it's cheesy and nasty and rough around the edges, but strangely invigorating in a rough-and-ready, unpretentious sort of way.

The violence is often punctuated by surreal humour, most memorably in a conference-call torture scene, and Gibson still has the chops when it comes to action acting.

At 56 he's no longer the dreamboat he once was, but his world-weary face is all the more interesting for its ravages. He could be ready to do some of his best acting screen work if he wanted, but only God and Mel know what he really wants.

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