"Gringo" -- ★ ½
The good news is David Oyelowo is a terrific comedic actor (who knew!).
The bad news is that the vehicle for discovery, Nash Edgerton's "Gringo," is a contrived action-comedy that is trying its hardest to shock and offend, but, you know, in a funny, cool B-movie way that involves someone's toe getting cut off with wire clippers and Charlize Theron talking about sex.
Oyelowo plays Harold, a Nigerian immigrant and middle manager for a pharma company run by his friend Richard (Joel Edgerton). His bosses, including Theron's Elaine, are mass producing a marijuana pill so that they'll be ready to conquer the market when it's legalized in the U.S., but unbeknown to him they're sustaining their business on illegal sales in Mexico facilitated by a local drug lord (Carlos Corona).
We know Harold's life is sad because we're introduced to him in the middle of a bitter Chicago winter. He takes his pup out in the freezing cold in the morning and then goes to meet with his accountant, who informs Harold that his wife, Bonnie (Thandie Newton), is digging them into massive debt with her costly and unsuccessful interior design business. When Harold suggests that perhaps Bonnie not rent out expensive office space while she has only one client, she scoffs.
Greedy, selfish wife? Emasculated provider husband who is also mistreated at work? A soulless set of bosses who are involved in a shady business arrangement and are ready to send Harold packing the moment a secret merger goes through?
Sounds like a crazy setup only a screenwriter (in this case, two) could dream up. So, Elaine, Richard and Harold go to Mexico to cut off the illegal arm of their business, which Harold knows nothing about.
None of them speak Spanish. Naturally, the drug lord is not ready to give up this weed pill supply and sets off to kidnap Harold.
There's also a subplot about a younger couple Miles (Harry Treadaway) and Sunny (Amanda Seyfried) who travel to Mexico to steal one of these weed pills (Sunny is of course oblivious). But it never really connects in any meaningful way, other than the fact that they run into Harold a lot.
"Gringo" gets some life when Richard dispatches his brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), an ex-special ops guy, to save Harold. The two have a funny chemistry together, but it's all too brief and too late.
There's a lot of gun violence, casual racism and hatefulness in general, especially toward women. Theron's Elaine, in particular, not so subtly seduces every man around for her own advancement. She's never without a drink in her hand and an offensive comment at the ready. That the one tolerable female character in here is Sunny, a doe-eyed innocent who loves butterflies, tells you a lot about the world view of the guys who made this film.
Oyelowo is the one who comes off without a scratch and actually has some quite amusing moments. If only the movie was a better showcase.
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Starring: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Carlos Corona, Sharlto Copley, Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton
Directed by: Nash Edgerton
Other: A STX Entertainment and Amazon Studios release. Rated R for language, violence and sexual situations. 110 minutes