By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
British actor David Oyelowo is probably best known for his stellar dramatic work. With Gringo, the classically trained actor shows movie audiences what he can do with comedic material. Written by Anthony Tambakis, Matthew Stone and directed by Nash Edgerton, this wild dark comedy does offer lots of laughs, but features plenty of tropes common to other superior films. Nevertheless, Oyelowo proves to be no slouch when it comes to comedic antics and Edgerton manages to deliver an entertaining film, despite the familiarity of its scenarios.
Oyelowo stars as Harold Soyinka, a mild mannered and well-meaning businessman who works for a pharmaceutical company that has created a revolutionary medical marijuana pill. Because the factory where the pill gets manufactured is in Mexico and there seems to be some discrepancies with the inventory, Harold must accompany his bosses Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) and Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) on a trip there to handle the matter. While in Mexico, Harold gets kidnapped by the Mexican cartel and held for ransom. While Elaine and Richard scramble to fix the situation, Harold’s wild adventure is only beginning.
To be fair, Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone’s script definitely has its high points when it comes to jokes and gags, and certainly offers some crazy, unexpected twists. Still, the structure of the film and the development of its characters is nothing most classic comedy film fans haven’t already seen. Nash Edgerton and his writers obviously channel other screwball and farcical comedy stories where the nice guy, whipping boy gets placed in a extraordinary situation that actually makes him smarter and stronger in the process. The intense, visceral violence, risque adult situations, and strong language simply places the elements in a more modern context. It basically tries to do for farce what The Nice Guys did for comedic, neo-noir, but Shane Black is a better writer, though. Still, I cannot deny that I found myself laughing often. Not all of the humor hits spectacularly, but enough does to keep movie audiences entertained sufficiently.
The solid performances by the cast definitely help sell the familiar and cliche gags. Charlize Theron is absolutely perfect as the cold, conniving and ambitious opportunist Elaine Markinson, a tough, no-nonsense woman who knows how to turn on the sex appeal to win big in the male dominated business world. Joel Edgerton performs very well as douchebag, scumbag, all around sleazy and tasteless Richard Rusk, a man who lives for the profits of his job and the multiple female conquests he seeks out on a regular basis. The film also has a hilarious, scene-stealing performance by Carlos Corona who portrays the Mexican kingpin that goes by the name of “Black Panther.” Another great addition to the cast is Sharlto Copley who stars as Mitch Rusk, Richard’s mercenary brother who gets tasked with Harold’s rescue. The film also features fine work by Thandie Newton, Amanda Seyfried, Melanie Diaz, Harry Treadaway, Paris Jackson, Alan Ruck and Yul Vasquez. It is Oyelowo, however, who absolutely shines as the titular “Gringo” Harold Soyinka. The actor takes on this role with much dedication and gusto and offers some absolutely hilarious reactions to his crazy situations.
So, even though the film does tread familiar territory, I still moderately recommend Gringo as worthy of a matinee-priced trip to the cinema. It offers a fun time at the theater and it is not too often that one gets to see normally serious and dramatic actor David Oyelowo in a funny comedy, obviously enjoying himself. I hope to see more comedic work from this talented classically-trained actor in the future.