Without a point, all Gringo can be is dull.
Before we discuss what, sadly, needs to discussed about Gringo, let’s just take a moment to consider the film’s incredible cast. David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried, Sharlto Copley, Thandie Newton, and many more all combined their considerable talent to bring this crime comedy to life. Everyone single one of them is incredibly talented. But none of them could save Gringo.
Gringo is the sort of sprawling, chaotic comedy that’s easy to try and exceptionally hard to pull off. It’s a series of disparate characters and huge coincidences that are supposed to collide, over and over again, to create eccentric, hilarious and deadly situations for the sake of humor. Get the formula right and you’ve got a breathless motion picture full of unexpected laughs and unforgettable characters. Get it wrong and you’ve got a hodgepodge of random set pieces, populated by characters we couldn’t care less about. Or, to put it another way, you’ve got Gringo.
David Oyelowo stars as Harold Soyinka, a hard-working middle management nobody at a pharmaceutical company, whose wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton) is draining his bank accounts, and whose boss Richard (Joel Edgerton) is plotting to fire him. Also, Richard has been conspiring with his co-worker Elaine (Charlize Theron) to sell drugs to a Mexican cartel. Also, Richard is sleeping with Bonnie. Also, Richard is sleeping with Elaine.
Everything basically sucks for Harold, and when it all comes crashing down during a business trip to Mexico, he decides to stage his own kidnapping and pocket the $5 million ransom for himself. But then it turns out Richard also let the company’s kidnapping insurance lapse, so they can’t afford to pay it. Also, Richard hires his ex-mercenary brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley) to rescue Harold from kidnappers who don’t exist. Also, that Mexican cartel is actually trying to kidnap Harold.
Round and round it goes, and wherever it stops it won’t be soon enough. Films about chaos take an overwhelming sense of order to pull off. Without a moral, or a guiding theme, or even just a really good punchline, they become – to quote the immortal words of Homer Simpson – “just a bunch of stuff that happened.” Gringo toys with the idea that the characters live in a world where the good get downtrodden and the bad get wealthy, but it doesn’t seem to have any particular opinion about that. Some people get their comeuppance and others don’t. It doesn’t amount to anything.
Gringo can’t even entirely decide where its loyalties lie. We’re supposed to sympathize with Harold, surely, but other than being put-upon he has no character to speak of. He wants $5 million, but what does he want to do with it? At no point does he speak of having dreams, aspirations or even hobbies. We want nice things to happen to him, if only on sheer principle, but we have no idea what to hope for because he exists only to victimized by this movie and its many, many jerk characters.
As for those jerks, Gringo can’t even decide how funny they’re supposed to be. They’re effective instruments of comedy so long as they’re getting in Harold’s way, but writer/director Nash Edgerton spends so much time with them and their affairs, anxieties and emotional foibles that you get the distinct impression we’re supposed to care about them too. And we might have, if they didn’t spend most of the movie being so cartoonishly despicable that nobody in the real world ever possibly could.
So why are we supposed to be watching this, and what are we supposed to get out of it? It’s the movie’s job to answer those questions and at no point does Gringo seem to present the answers. Maybe you’ll be amused by the randomness of this story, but if all you wanted were random events, perpetrated by jerks, untouched by the guiding hand of a storyteller with some sort of point to make, you don’t have to pay to see it in a theater. You could just look outside.