Review: Stuntman-turned-director crashes complicated caper 'Gringo'

David Oyelowo stars as an indebted cuckold who decides to try faking his own death.

David Oyelowo stars as an indebted cuckold who decides to try faking his own death. Gunther Campine/Amazon Studios

Nash Edgerton’s Gringo claims to be a mix of dark comedy and “white-knuckle action,” but truthfully, the longtime stuntman’s latest directorial feature doesn’t offer much of either.

The setup is there: A by-the-book corporate stooge named Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) is entangled (though oblivious) in some shady Big Pharma drug dealings. Drowning in debt, on the cusp of losing his job, and cuckolded by one of his bosses (Joel Edgerton), Harold decides to fake his own kidnapping and demand a $5 million ransom. Unfortunately, Harold underestimates his employers’ scumbaggery, and the appearances of a seasoned mercenary and a Mexican cartel only make his situation worse.

The problem is there’s also a boyfriend/girlfriend drug mule subplot, another subplot about two guys running a hotel, and a love triangle. The attempt at intricacy is admirable and perhaps could have worked in more skilled hands, but Gringo’s various parts don’t add up to anything special. It’s a complicated movie, just not in a good way.

Gringo lays the foundation for character development that never really plays out in a meaningful way. It’s like the screenwriters completed two-thirds of a script but weren’t sure how to finish it, so they just went back and elaborated ad nauseam on what they’d already written. The result is a 110-minute film that feels much, much longer—and yet also somehow hurried.

Sadly, the end of the movie is completely flat. The drug at the center of everything—a weed pill, somewhat stupidly—only factors in tangentially. Multiple characters find themselves the victims of easy outs, leaving us to wonder what purpose they served at all. (Harry Treadaway and Amanda Seyfried, for example, could be completely removed from the movie without changing much.)

Beyond the plot lines, you’d expect a stuntman would have a pretty good grasp on action sequences. Yet even here, there’s nothing to write home about. Some car hijinks and a quick shootout or two are apparently enough to check the “white-knuckle action” box.

For what it’s worth, the cast does a decent job with the material given. Harold becomes a weak stereotype the more you think about him, but Oyelowo seems to have a lot of fun with the role. Charlize Theron’s character—the bombshell corporate cutthroat who uses sexuality to get what she wants—feels overdone, though Theron is good enough to make lemonade out of the situation. And Sharlto Copley stands out as an American gun-for-hire who has changed his ways. It’s a shame that his story never pays off.

Gringo is the kind of movie people go into without too many expectations. You might hope for a pleasant surprise—some excitement, some action, some laughs. There’s a million little things going on in this movie, but they don’t make much of an impact.

Director: Nash Edgerton
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo
Rated: R
Theater: Area theaters, now showing