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Film review: How I Spent My Summer Vacation ***
Mel Gibson is the Gringo of the original title (Get the Gringo). He is, in fact, the only Gringo in El Pueblito prison in Tijuana. Unlike the real version of macho Mel, his character in this is almost likeable. A criminal with no name and the need to narrate his adventure story to his mum, as well as all the girls and boys watching; he’s a smart-arsed, wise-cracking, ex-army sniper with ex-wife issues. After being chased by US officials and crashing the Mexican border (dressed as a clown, no less), Mel finds himself banged up in the “small town, large hell” that is El Pueblito, and not for the first time. Having lost his stolen mobster millions to some corrupt Mexican border police, the rest of the action is about him trying to get it back and get out, while saving his nine-year-old side-kick from an unnecessary liver transplant – all will be revealed if you really want to know, and you can understand the subtitles when the Mexican mobsters speak. However, you can also just forget the master criminal sub-plot and enjoy the entertaining narrative that is Mel’s gritty, yet smooth and sometimes funny voice-over. Even if you can read the Greek subtitles not much of the sub-plot makes any sense, anyway.
El Pueblito is some sort of lawless, open prison where families come to live with their inmate relatives, and anything goes. Less a prison and more some sort of social experiment. This place actually did exist, although whether it was quite as bad as it looks in the film, who knows? It seems to be one big, violent free-for-all, but you can buy a beer, and prostitutes, it has a burger bar, a ‘smack shack’, charity wrestling matches and free Wi-Fi, at least for the master criminals running the show. On entry to the main prison campus, Mel comments, “Is this a prison, or the world’s shittiest mall?” The running commentary is amusing at times, “you gotta love murderers who recycle.” All the way through to, “Well girls and boys, to the untrained eye, it looks as if crime pays.” You can see he is a bit of a charmer in this. And I can see why people say Mel is talented. Not that I have ever been a fan of his films, and have certainly never fancied him. But Mel is good in the role and he also co-wrote this film with director Adrian Grunberg, and produced it.
The co-star of the film, the tough-talking, nine-year-old (Kevin Hernandez) with a smoking habit and a liver he desperately wants to save from the clutches of a Mexican mobster, is quite cute. And if you think it couldn’t get sillier than that, it does. There is a rather ridiculous scene involving the torture of a corrupt US embassy official that involves hot chilli sauce. I can’t imagine that chillies are the obvious torture weapons of choice in most situations. But, on the other hand, when you know just how hot those Mexican chillies can be, it sort of makes sense. In between all of this, the action involves some updated version of a gunfight at the OK Corral and various other shootings, torture episodes, chases and robberies.
The film went straight to cable TV in the US, apparently. You may ask why. It may have more to do with Mel Gibson’s own lack of popularity among the Hollywood elite than the quality of this film. If he had managed to keep a low profile in his personal life, it might have had the potential to be a box office hit. Given how silly the film is, it is still probably more entertaining than much of the drivel that comes out of Hollywood and is on offer here.
DIRECTED BY Adrian Grunberg
STARRING Mel Gibson, Peter Stormare, Kevin Hernandez
US 2012 95 mins