Nash Edgerton has been working in front of and behind the camera for 20 years now. He’s been an actor, a stuntman, and a music-video director. But outside of his native Australia, he’s still primarily known as the older brother of Joel Edgerton. That sort of thing can be a burden, of course. But it can also come in handy when you’re trying to get a green light for your first big Hollywood feature and convince recognizable stars to sign on for it. For his new Amazon Studios action-comedy, Gringo, Edgerton not only landed David Oyelowo and Charlize Theron, but also Amanda Seyfried, Sharlto Copley, Thandie Newton, and of course, his baby brother. Not too shabby. After all, on their own, these are all people you’d gladly fork over $10 to watch. Unfortunately, together, in this frenetic, plate-spinning, south-of-the-border caper, they all look a bit lost.
Gringo wants to be The Mexican crossed with What’s Up Doc? fueled by the madcap adrenalin of Midnight Run. But while the fish-out-of-water caper is stuffed with whiplash turns and colorfully eccentric lowlife characters, it never adds up to much. It’s so busy you might think there’s more to it than they’re really is. The best thing it has going for it is Oyelowo, the star of the 2014 MLK biopic Selma, who gets a rare opportunity to cut loose with a few hilarious outbursts of high-pitched exasperation.
Oyelowo plays Harold Soyinka, a mild-mannered Nigerian immigrant who works at a Chicago pharmaceuticals company run by a pair of amoral schemers (Joel Edgerton and Theron). Edgerton is selfish jock bro who’s having an affair with Harold’s wife (Newton), and Theron is his icy, foul-mouthed sexpot partner in crime who’s willing to seduce anyone who can grease her path to the top. When Harold, the consummate victim, discovers that the two are in cahoots with a Latin American cartel peddling his company’s latest cannabis pill and that he’s been cast in the role of the patsy, he plots to turn the tables by faking his own kidnapping in Mexico. The problem is, Harold doesn’t have a duplicitous bone in his body. He’s a good man — and a pushover.
Harold’s plan goes awry in a dozen different ways — each more contrived and overly convenient than the next. But aside from a drug lord with a Beatles obsession and some jumpy spasms of violence, this exercise in when-bad-things-happen-to-good-people feels surprisingly flat. The part of Harold was reportedly conceived to be played by a white actor. And the casting of Oyelowo and his character’s Nigerian background does give the film an added culture-clash dimension and shred of sympathy. But by the end, you can’t help feeling that both Oyelowo and his Gringo character deserve something a little better. C