Nothing quite fits in The Mexican. For starters, there’s the title.
This film isn’t about somebody from Mexico—come on, you know Hollywood better than that. This is the industry that decided Charlton Heston could play a Mexican, then put him in Touch of Evil with black hair dye and a mustache.
The Mexican is the name of an elusive antique gun that carries a curse that plagues everyone who owns it. The gun is really the main character in an innocently scripted little film that has bloated into one of the bigger star vehicles in recent years.
Writer J.H. Wyman’s slight premise can’t support the weight brought to the film by Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. What’s more, in their first picture together, these two big names spend about two-thirds of the film apart, which sort of countermands the whole purpose of having two such determined Movie Stars in your film.
Another poor fit is the false assumption that a large amount of psychobabble and tough guys talking cool will substitute for coherent plot exposition—although, to be fair, it’s worked before. But there are few things quite so painful to watch as attempts at coolness that fall just short of the mark, and we get those in spades here. From Pitt’s lovable loserism to Roberts’ buzzword chicanery, we have two big stars making a movie that doesn’t suit them, and isn’t fun to watch.
The Mexican is basically a screwball comedy with a penchant for bloody murder—the kind of delicate mix that is very easy to mess up. It also wants to be one of those philosophically meandering road movies in which everybody looks cool caked in dirt and blood. Instead, it features a lot of people caked in dirt and blood looking decidedly unhip and shouting less-than-compelling dialogue at the camera. As a little indie film, it would be a good-natured swing-and- miss, but as a big-budget, star-powered Hollywood production, it’s a flop and an unfunny spectacle.
At least Pitt and Roberts start the film together. Roberts is Sam, a shrill woman given to spouting “Women are from Venus” relationship clichés. Pitt, who’s never been accused of possessing excessive talent, is Jerry, a lovable low-level mob employee (aren’t they all?) who’s working for an imprisoned boss but wants to quit, at the behest of his beloved.
An underboss (Bob Balaban) assigns Jerry to go to Mexico and pick up the aforementioned gun, even though it’s cursed and everything. This infuriates Sam, even though Jerry’s going to be killed if he doesn’t do it. She throws his clothes out the window and stomps around screaming—and it’s about here that you get the first inclination that nothing is going to fit in this film. What is she so upset about? They take off in opposite directions for the next 80 minutes or so.
Sam heads for Vegas, where she’s soon snatched up by a quiet, smooth hitman named Leroy (James Gandolfini of The Sopranos). Their scenes together are moderately entertaining, but hardly enough to prop up a film that just kills somebody every time the plot slows down. Gandolfini is one of those philosophical bad guys that every studio action film is now legally required to feature. Though his decidedly un-movie-star presence gives the film pause, it’s quickly rushed forward again by Roberts and Pitt.
So how did The Mexican go wrong? Well, it’s too violent and serious for a screwball comedy, but it’s too silly and slight for an action picture. The stars are decent together, but they don’t spend very much time in each other’s presence. The plot is frankly a bit boring, with not a whole lot truly at stake other than the leads’ relationship.
There’s a line late in the film that sort of sums everything up: “All I got is my wallet and an attitude.” The wallet is obvious from the names above the title, but the attitude just doesn’t amount to good cinema.
The Mexican (R) HH Directed by Gore Verbinski. Starring Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini.