Gringo Review: A no-go
Offensive, stereotypical, unfunny for the long and short of it, and quite tiresome to sit through
Gringo is one of those films that finds it difficult to position itself. Is it a comedy, is it a drama, is it action, is it a thriller, or is it all of the above? This, by no stretch, implies that it has to position itself as such. There is brilliant cinema that defies categorisation. After watching Gringo, one can safely surmise that it does not fall into that category. By confusing itself for something it clearly isn’t, the film proves to be extremely ordinary. But for one or two scenes that render it half-watchable, the film fails to make any sort of impression. While most of Gringo’s attempts at eliciting laughter are either borderline racist, stereotypical, or downright offensive, there’s a sequence involving a Mexican mob boss whose obsession with The Beatles is well and truly uproarious. The loutish gangster begins all his interrogations with a question about whether the interviewee likes the band or not. He then proceeds to quiz them on the superiority of their albums; answer incorrectly, and there’s no telling if he’ll get his men to chop off a body part or not.
Cast: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried
Director: Nash Edgerton
At the head of the film’s narrative is Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), a down-on-his-luck Nigerian living in Chicago with his American wife. The audience is immediately manipulated into feeling sorry for the man, because, within minutes of his introduction, we are given to understand that he is almost broke, and is being treated with great condescension by his white American bosses, Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron). What’s worse is that Richard pretends to treat Harold as a friend in order to use the simpleton for his own ends. Harold, Richard, and Elaine, work for a medical marijuana company that has developed a pill that renders the same effect. Unbeknownst to Harold, Richard and Elaine are illegally peddling the product to the Mexican mob via one of their offshore laboratories there. Harold, who travels frequently to the country on work, gets wind of a merger that is to take place, but is placated by his 'friend' Richard. When the mob demands the formula for the pill, and stops the cash flow to the States, Richard and Elaine are forced to travel with Harold to Mexico.
Charlize Theron and Joel Edgerton play the film’s most insufferable characters. A trite American conwoman/conman duo, they are entitled, condescending, racist, politically incorrect, and highly manipulative. All these tropes exist in real life, no doubt, but it is the presentation of their supposedly funny moments that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. This shows the most when Elaine enters Mexico and is dealing with the local head of the American company’s stocking and manufacturing facility. In a matter of minutes, her inner racist (along with the highly misinformed American stereotype) takes centre stage; not just does she mistake the man’s name for Suarez (when he corrects her by stating it’s actually Sanchez, she replies with an offhand remark to the tune of “same thing”), she looks at the pictures of all the kids on his pin-up board and says something along the lines of “haven’t these people heard of condoms?” Then there’s Richard telling Harold (who is faking his own kidnapping) that he needs to get somebody who speaks “Mexican” on the phone. All these sequences are passed off as hilarious, but they cannot be more off the mark.
Richard’s and Elaine’s lack of cultural sensitivity and misplaced notions play seamlessly into the “dumb American” stereotype. They are, if anything, quite offensive. Portraying Harold as a helpless immigrant black man who can be taken for a ride so easily by “smarter white folks” is another great failing of Gringo. It is, after all, a story about Harold, and his fight against unfair odds, but the treatment of the whole thing leaves much to be desired. With poor writing, unfunny for the long and short of it, and quite tiresome to sit through, Gringo would have flopped miserably if it weren’t for a decent chuckle or two involving side characters. Expecting much else from it must be done at your own detriment.