GRINGO (2018) is one of the more unfunny comedies I’ve seen in a while.
Interesting, amiable, even amusing, but funny? Nope. And that’s just not a good sign for a comedy.
Harold (David Oyelowo) is an honest and rather naive businessman who finds himself in hot water in Mexico when his dishonest bosses Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) put him in harm’s way when they double cross a Mexican drug lord known as The Black Panther (Carlos Corona). On top of this, Harold learns that his wife is having an affair with Richard, and she’s planning to leave him. Talk about having a bad day!
Sick of playing by the rules, Harold stages his own kidnapping, hoping to extort ransom money from Richard and Elaine. But Richard sends in his militarily trained brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley) to extract Harold from Mexico so he doesn’t have to pay the ransom money. Of course, the The Black Panther’s henchmen really are trying to kidnap Harold. And when Harold crosses paths with an American couple, Sunny (Amanda Seyfried) and her boyfriend Miles (Harry Treadaway), who is involved with a drug deal of his own, things get even more complicated.
Complicated, but not funny.
I’m still in disbelief at how little laughter this movie generated. I didn’t laugh once, and the audience I saw it with was as silent as if they were taking a nap. Perhaps they were.
First of all, this movie has a fantastic cast, and yet they are pretty much all wasted in a script that for a number of reasons can’t get a laugh to save its life. GRINGO is marketed as a dark comedy, and that label is somewhat true. The story is dark, but the tone is light. Screenwriters Anthony Tabakis and Matthew Stone tell a story that has the makings of a riotous comedy, but the jokes and situations fall short time and time again.
David Oyelowo’s Harold is a likable enough protagonist. He’s definitely a sympathetic character who the audience will relate to and root for, but the situations he finds himself in never rise to the level of uproarious laughter. His attempts at staging his own kidnapping, for instance, involve hiring a couple of locals to talk tough in the background while he’s on the phone with Richard. Not that comical. Sadly, nearly all of Oyelowo’s comedic scenes fall short. On the contrary, his best scenes are his serious ones, like when he laments to Sunny that the world is upside down as it rewards bad people and punishes the good, a conversation that actually rings true.
Oyelowo just starred in the less than stellar THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018), and he’s probably most known for his powerful performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in SELMA (2014). His role here as Harold is largely forgettable.
Both Joel Edgerton and Charlize Theron play two of the more unlikable characters I’ve seen in a movie in a while. They’re supposed to be funny, but they’re not. They’re just callous and mean. Plus they’re excluded from the main action in the story. Rather than being part of the storyline in Mexico with Harold, they spend most of their screen time in their offices speaking on the phone and to other characters.
Likewise, Sharlto Copley’s Mitch is yet another unfunny character. He’s a former military assassin who’s now found religion, but even this twist adds nothing to the humor.
The Black Panther loves The Beatles, and he often kills his enemies based on their opinions of the Fab Four, but this running gag falls short, mostly because it’s not that funny to begin with. And hearing the name Black Panther did nothing but distract me throughout, as every time I heard it I found myself wishing I were in the next theater watching Marvel’s THE BLACK PANTHER (2018) again instead of this movie.
Amanda Seyfried plays it straight as Sunny, and she’s likable enough in this role, but sadly it’s a small role and not terribly important. She’s a very talented actress and deserves better roles than this.
And Harry Treadaway, who played Victor Frankenstein on the TV show PENNY DREADFUL (2014-2016) looks completely out-of-place here as Sunny’s drug dealing boyfriend Miles.
GRINGO was directed by Nash Edgerton, Joel’s older brother, and he does an okay job. The biggest problem with the film is the script, but still there are some odd choices from the director’s chair. There are a couple of scenes that end in odd places, like one between Elaine and fellow businessman Jerry (Alan Ruck) in a bar, where Jerry is hitting on her but she turns the tables on him in what looks like a potential hilarious moment but before it reaches this climax it just ends without the expected payoff. Likewise, there are several scenes between Harold and Sunny where you expect more to happen but it doesn’t.
I certainly didn’t hate GRINGO. I liked the character of Harold, and his plight in Mexico was fairly amusing, but it’s a story that ultimately plays like a light drama rather than a dark comedy. The laughs just aren’t there.
As such, GRINGO is probably my least favorite film of 2018 so far.