The best actors do comedy and drama equally well. At the extremes, there are Daniel Day-Lewis and Jim Carrey. Of course, you can’t say three-Oscar Day-Lewis isn’t a “best” actor; the comedic things he does in “My Left Foot” are the height of tragic-comedic talent. But generally speaking, if you want drama, you call Day-Lewis.
And Carrey’s worked very hard, to the point where you can almost take him seriously in a drama, but you never forget that those manic Irish eyes and rubbery clown face are custom-built for comedy.
Then, there’re the tier-one utility actors. If for nothing else, go see “Gringo,” a wild black comedy set mostly in Mexico, in order to watch Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. be hysterically funny. I mean David Oyelowo.
The rest of the A-list cast brings up the rear, while Oyelowo’s out in front of the pack, sprinting like Usain Bolt, being hilarious almost all by himself.
Who’s a Gringo?
Harold (Oyelowo) is the titular (Negrito) gringo. He’s a sweet-tempered Nigerian man who went to college in America, and, unbeknown to himself, is financially foundering. He thinks he’s living the American dream in a Chicago ’burb.
Harold’s accountant, however, sees the writing on the wall, and warns him that he’s on the brink of bankruptcy because he’s about to get shafted by his boss, Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton), who also happens to be Harold’s former college roomie.
Richard is co-president of a pharmaceutical company; he is a duplicitous, smarm-filled bro, and minor master of the universe. Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) is Harold’s other boss: a ruthless businesswoman who plays with the big boys, but can’t be mistaken for one because she wields way too much cleavage. She’s also meaner than a rattlesnake.
What Goes On
So Harold goes and asks Richard point-blank if the incipient shafting is indeed a true thing. Richard tells lies! Next thing you know, co-presidents Richard and Elaine are accompanying middle-manager Harold to Mexico, where the company owns a plant.
What does their plant make? Cannabis Technologies makes a revolutionary (read very borderline legal), bioengineered, medical marijuana product called Cannabax—ganja pills, basically. Weed pills. Mary Jane pills. A widely (and wildly) coveted product and formula, to be sure.
What Else Goes On
Richard and Elaine have found themselves (via Elaine’s cleavage) a nice partner (Alan Ruck of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) to do a merger with. And since they now have a partner, they’d like to cut out that Mexican drug cartel they’d been selling product to on the side.
What do you think this cartel will think about that? It’s reminiscent of the line in “The Fellowship Of The Ring,” where Saruman says to Gandalf, “The friendship of Saruman is not lightly thrown aside.” One does not simply brush off Mexican drug cartels without bodily extremities disappearing along with them.
Remember Harold? This Is a Movie About Harold
Why’s hapless Harold there? For patsy purposes. Harold suffers hardships on top of hardships. Richard and Elaine hightail it back to Chicago, ditching Harold in Mexico, and when he Skypes with his wife, Bonnie, she admits she’s been having an affair—take a wild guess with whom?
But Harold is ultimately not stupid, just too nice. He eventually starts to wise up. He pays the Mexican motel concierge to fake his (Harold’s) own kidnapping, and shout scary things in Spanish, while Harold screams on the phone with Richard. But then he gets cartel-kidnapped for real. Then he escapes. Then he gets kidnapped yet again! By someone else!
Why does everyone want to kidnap Harold? Because the Black Panther (no, not that one, this is the cartel kingpin) thinks Harold’s the boss of Cannabis Technologies, whose thumbprint can open the vault that contains the secret-sauce formula for pot pills.
Meanwhile, Richard’s brother, a former mercenary turned holy-man wannabe, named Mitch (Sharlto Copley), well, Rich hires Mitch to exfiltrate Harold out of Mexico. And at some point, killing Harold presents itself as an option for Mitch—a spiritual test! Lastly, the DEA is hanging around Harold, hoping he’ll accidentally break their case for them, sort of like an unwitting Nigerian Forest Gump.
How Funny Is It?
February and March are not months for awesome movies, so my expectations for “Gringo” weren’t high, but I was pleasantly surprised; it’s enjoyable watching a superb A-list cast enjoying themselves, playing scoundrels who are cheerfully up to absolutely no good. And then there’s the quite-likeable gringo, blubbering, screaming like a little girl, running in circles, and eventually turning the tables on his tormentors.
To say “Gringo” is politically incorrect is, of course, an understatement, but most comedies are these days, especially R-rated ones, and you’re not going to be taking anything seriously here.
Joel Edgerton’s older brother, Nash, directs, by the way. “Gringo” is an Edgerton Bros joint—a couple of Aussies telling a pretty good American tale of foolishness.
Director: Nash Edgerton
Starring: David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried, Charlize Theron, Yul Vazquez, Thandie Newton, Sharlto Copley
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Rated: R (for language throughout, violence, and sexual content)
Release Date: March 9
Rated 3 stars out of 5