I’m pretty sure this film will have many people go “Oh, what a missed opportunity.” After all, it does star two of Hollywood’s brightest stars, Brad “People’s Sexiest Man Alive” Pitt and Julia “America’s Sweetheart” Roberts. Yet instead of playing in a crowd-pleasing romantic comedy, they chose to unite for a quirky 35 million$ picture and to boot, they spend most of the film apart. Still, if you can brush away your expectations, you’ll find “The Mexican” to be a pretty darn fun ride.
Pitt stars as Jerry, a Mob bagman whose better half Samantha (Roberts) doesn’t agree with his chosen profession. Well, chosen might not be the right word. The reason why Jerry has been running errands for Nayman (Bob Balaban, the NBC president in Seinfeld) for the last five years is that he’s sort of responsible for sending Mafioso boss Margolese (Gene Hackman, in an uncredited cameo) to jail, through his bad driving. Margolese is set to be released in a week, so Jerry figures he’s worked out his debt and won’t have to do anything with the outfit no more… But before that, they want him to do the obligatory “one last job”, which is to go retrieve an antic musket in Mexico. So there goes Jerry on a plane, despite Sam’s lamentations. Self-centered as she is, she doesn’t realize that her lover will end up dead if he doesn’t comply, so she makes a big scene and takes off herself, towards her long brewed dream of making it as a croupier in Las Vegas. But on her way, she’s abducted by Leroy (James Gandolfini), a hitman sent by Margolese to kidnap her to make sure Jerry doesn’t get any crazy ideas. Not that he could have, stuck as he is running around Mexico trying to forrestgump his way out with both the priceless gun and his life…
Ok, so our two gorgeous leads are separated, not only by Mob-inclined circumstances but by constant bickering and arguing in the handful of scenes they share. Hence we kinda get two movies for the price of one. On one side, there’s Brad screwing up and being screwed over through San Miguel, talking tough with tenants in a sleazy tequila bar, getting his funky rental car stolen, befriending an ugly dog, scheming around double and triple crosses involving other bag men, dirty cops and Mexican thieves… That part of the movie is, to me, the most enjoyable. Pitt has never been hotter, and he’s also wonderfully goofy and endearing, and the film takes this really interesting, offbeat feel, a bit like the Coen bros’ Raising Arizona. Meanwhile, Roberts’ doing her movie star thing, and it’s not as compelling. Sure, she’s pretty too, but she tens to overdo everything, speed talking, yelling, flashing her huge smile, or pouting and dropping a few crocodile tears. What salvages her half of the film is her pairing with James Gandolfini, whose Leroy is less Tony Soprano than a sensitive version of the goon he played opposite Pitt’s stoner in “True Romance”. Most of his dialogue doesn’t dig deeper than an Oprah magazine article, but Gandolfini sells it with a quiet, strong presence that always ring true.
The movie was directed by Gore Verbinski, whose work on those Budweiser frogs commercials and the family film “Mousehunt” wouldn’t make you think of him as the perfect choice for this, but he does a surprisingly good job. He crafts one cool, stylish film that doesn’t always work perfectly but has well enough bright spots to make you leave a theatre smiling. Verbinski balances different tones skilfully, giving us laughs, thrills and even some touching moments. The film ain’t particularly profound, but it’s witty and refreshing. It’s got some really interesting cinematography, not quite on a “Traffic” level, but similarly inventive with colors and lighting. I also really liked Alan Silvestri’s score, an effective pastiche of Latin music, complete with trumpets and flamenco guitars. All in all, “The Mexican” is well worth checking out. I don’t get why it’s getting bad reviews, when it’s the only really good Hollywood movie I’ve seen so far this year.