The Mexican is a supreme example of what is called a star-driven film. The stars in question, Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, drove the film into production and will doubtless drive moviegoers into the theatres. It's a pity, then, that Roberts and Pitt have to spend so much of the movie so many kilometres apart.
The Mexican of the title is not a person but a gun that a small-time crook, Jerry (Pitt), must retrieve. Getting and keeping this item involves surviving the interventions of many interested parties.
Meanwhile, Jerry's girlfriend, Samantha (Roberts), is none too happy about her man's frequent, illegal absences, so she hits the road to Las Vegas, only to be pursued by other crooks with a stake in attaining the precious gun.
This is a weird, timid, overlong movie that never catches fire. There are nods to Tarantino and Peckinpah in the various Mexican stand-offs and split-second decisions to shoot or not, but the violent and sexual elements are kept very tame and audience-friendly. One can never take the atmosphere of threat and menace terribly seriously. And the mystery plot is a confusing, overly complicated affair.
Apart from the action-intrigue – which is terribly drawn out with successive versions of a tale about the mythic origins of the gun – the film tries to weave a kooky romance. Since the lovers are rarely in the same room, writer J. H. Wyman has to invent a supposedly heartwarming sub-plot involving Samantha's growing friendship with her sensitive, gay kidnapper, Leroy (James Gandolfini from TV's The Sopranos).
Separately or together, Pitt and Roberts make for an irritating double act. Both actors coast on their mannerisms, which are oddly complementary: while Roberts ad libs like a machine gun, drawing out banal lines of dialogue, Pitt offers a hundred variations on his character's inability to get out a word or complete a simple gesture. While Roberts endlessly splutters "I, I, I...", Pitt freezes at the point of "What the ... ?!"
Early on, director Gore Verbinski (whose previous film was the vastly superior Mouse Hunt ) gives notice that he intends to satirise the figure of the Ugly American, ignorant and full of illusions, in Mexico. But then the film proceeds to unimaginatively and wearily recycle every Hollywood cliché and stereotype about Mexican people, history and culture.
It is hard to tell whether Verbinski is aiming at a cartoonish parody – as the pastiche of Ennio Morricone themes by composer Alan Silvestri seems to suggest – or whether he is going for an old-style frisson of romance and melodrama. Either way, his film slips and fails badly.
MORE Verbinski: The Ring
© Adrian Martin April 2001