Film review: Gringo an exercise in hyperkinetic style over coherent substance

A breathless caper peopled by abrasive characters motivated by greed and ambition, English actor David Oyelowo is the glue that prevents Nash Edgerton's frenetic comedy thriller Gringo from falling apart, writes Damon Smith

David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron and Joel Edgerton in Gringo

AN HONOURABLE man abandons his moral compass to turn the tables on his corrupt employers, and unwittingly spins himself into a quagmire of deceit and betrayal, in Nash Edgerton's frenetic comedy thriller.

Co-written by Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone, Gringo employs a fractured chronology to chart a bungled kidnapping in Mexico that might have been masterminded by the tearful victim.

Appearances are deceptive throughout Edgerton's breathless caper, and as voyeurs, our limited enjoyment comes from attempting to second guess how abrasive characters will double-cross one another in the name of greed and ambition.

Some of these hairpin twists are predictable so director Edgerton distracts us from the script's manifold shortcomings with breathless action sequences and self-consciously offbeat comic interludes.

Oxford-born actor David Oyelowo is instantly likeable as the kind-hearted middle manager at the epicentre of the convoluted chaos.

He's the calm in a storm of exaggerated supporting performances including Charlize Theron as a vampy executive, who happily loses her underwear if it will allow her to clamber up one greasy rung on the career ladder, and Carlos Corona as a drugs kingpin, who obsesses about The Beatles as he severs the big toe of an underperforming henchman

Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Theron) preside over Chicago-based Promethium Pharmaceuticals, which is poised to initiate full production of Cannabax – medical marijuana in a pill.

The executives travel to Mexico with mild-mannered Operations Supervisor Harold Soyinka (Oyelowo), whose wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton) has just announced that she is leaving him.

While Harold goes into emotional meltdown, Richard and Elaine speak confidentially to factory foreman Celerino Sanchez (Hernan Mendoza), informing their man to stop supplying cartel head Juan Miguel Villegas (Corona) aka The Black Panther with raw product from the Promethium inventory.

The executives are in secret takeover talks with Powell Pharmaceuticals and must avoid stock discrepancies, which could scupper the deal.

In retaliation, Villegas orders his goons to abduct Harold, whose fingerprint signature unlocks the safe containing the Cannabax formula.

“I know a guy who might be good for this: Special Ops, extraction…” Richard informs Elaine.

He contacts his brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), a mercenary-for-hire, who promises to smuggle Harold across the Mexico-US border in exchange for medical supplies to benefit the stricken people of Haiti.

The rescue mission hits myriad snags and fugitives Mitch and Harold rely on the kindness of strangers including American tourist Sunny (Amanda Seyfried) and her British drug-mule boyfriend (Harry Treadaway).

Gringo is an exercise in hyperkinetic style over coherent substance.

Dramatic intersections often seem contrived and many of the characters are sketched so casually, they are surplus to requirements.

Oyelowo's sympathetic and sporadically heartfelt portrayal is the glue that prevents the picture from falling apart.

GRINGO (15, 110 mins) Thriller/Comedy/Action/Romance. David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, Sharlto Copley, Amanda Seyfried, Harry Treadaway, Carlos Corona, Thandie Newton. Director: Nash Edgerton.

Released: March 9

RATING: 5/10

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