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Gringo is half-baked Tarantino.

Let It Be

Harold's not having fun in Mexico
Harold’s not having fun in Mexico

Let’s get one thing straight up front: Gringo is not a stoner comedy (and Tarantino had nothing to do with it). Never mind the clever placement of the green dispensary logo in the marketing materials. The drug influence is merely a catalyst for the action, with the story revolving around a major pharmaceutical company’s dippy-doodle plan to offer medical marijuana in a pill called Cannabax.

The pharma company, Promethium, has a scapegoat named Harold (David Oyelowo, Queen of Katwe), who’s held captive in Mexico by the nefarious, ruthless leader of a drug cartel (who also happens to be a really big fan of the Beatles). Back home in Chicago, Harold has a wife, Bonnie (Thandie Newton, W.), who’s equally loose with her money and her body; she’s having an affair with Harold’s boss, Richard (Joel Edgerton, Red Sparrow).

Richard is also having an office fling with a hard-charging broad (yeah, it’s 2018 and, yeah, she’s a broad) named Elaine (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road). Richard and Elaine are trying to cash out by selling Promethium to anybody who’ll buy into their Cannabax plan. And Richard has a brother, Mitch (Sharlto Copley, Maleficent), who was a mercenary before having a change of heart and becoming a relief worker in disaster-stricken Haiti.

And there’s also a loser named Miles (Harry Treadaway, The Lone Ranger), who works in a guitar store while running drugs on the side. Somehow this snarky deadbeat has managed to score a relationship with the nice and peaceful Sunny (Amanda Seyfried, Les Miserables).

Rubber Soul

As fickle fate would have it, Harold’s story intersects with Sunny’s and Mitch’s in a way that makes the serendipitous events of A Wrinkle in Time seem downright calculated.

Maybe Harold’s being held hostage, maybe he’s staging it — but then again, maybe he really is being held hostage. And maybe Mitch will kill Harold so his irredeemably unlikable brother can score an insurance claim, or maybe Mitch and Harold will team up and exact revenge on Richard. As for that stupid kid in the guitar shop, maybe he’ll be able to smuggle a Cannabax pill out of the manufacturing plant in Mexico. Maybe he won’t.

If any of this sounds clever, it’s not. Unfortunately. It could’ve been, but it certainly needed more time in the grow house.

Gringo was written by Anthony Tambakis (Warrior) and Matthew Stone. No — no, not the Matt Stone of South Park fame; this is Matthew Stone, who co-wrote the really good Coen Brothers comedy Intolerable Cruelty. Ironic. Gringo is a wholly different sort of intolerable cruelty.

Aside from Harold and Sunny (and a minor player in the Mexico plant, a guy with a whole fleet of children), the characters are largely unlikable. But, in another unfortunate matter, they’re not unlikable in a “fun to hate” kind of way, but rather in a “can’t wait to say goodbye” kind of way.

Instant Karma

The story of how this movie came to be actually might make for a more interesting movie. Building out the spider web, director Nash Edgerton is Joel’s brother. Joel co-starred with Tom Hardy in Warrior. Hardy went on to co-star with Theron in Fury Road. As for Oyelowo, maybe this is all payback for being the voice of ultimate darkness, the “IT” in A Wrinkle in Time.

Anyway, what’s sad is Oyelowo is really good here. He’s given some remarkable performances, including Queen of Katwe and Selma (directed by Wrinkle’s Ava DuVernay — ooh, the spider web gets more complex). But here, like the rest of this A/A-/B+ cast, he’s wasted – and not in the bong sense.

The movie has vestiges of a soul. There are ideas that surface in the dialogue indicating a bigger plan might’ve been in mind at some point. Poor Harold, who thinks the entire world is updside-down, comments, “I don’t think it pays to be a good person.” Sunny’s there to pick him up and assure him not everybody wants a yacht or a sports car. She’s a bastion of contentment in a sea of troubled souls.

That’s a double-whammy worth pursuing, but the conversation passes and we’re back to the dead pool. Elaine, as tough as she is when around her male counterparts, looks herself in the (rearview) mirror and assures herself she’s Daddy’s little girl and she’s a winner. That’s another bit worth exploring, but it turns into yet another random moment that attempts to humanize the monster – maybe it’s the monster in us all. Food for thought, or at least the munchies.

Nonetheless, instead of digging deep and growing some strong roots, Gringo consistently settles for the shallow. It has its moments of high violence, but then it shrinks back when it comes time for what audiences no doubt really wanted to see: Richard gettin’ it but good. Given all the machinations to crafting the numerous character path crossings, what the movie needed was an ending with real punch, a wallop of karma, not a droplet of vinegar and a spoonful of sugar.

Consider this before buying a ticket (if that’s still being considered): Gringo was co-produced by Amazon Studios. Give it a few weeks and it’s destined to be streaming for free on Prime Video.