A mild-mannered middle-management stooge gets lost, only to find himself south of the border in the mostly middling action-comedy “Gringo.”
David Oyelowo tests out his comedy chops as Harold, a nice-guy Nigerian immigrant scraping by and scrapping for his slice of the American dream, which involves an inattentive wife (Thandie Newton), a tiny dog, a mountain of debt and a couple of truly abusive criminal individuals as bosses. Living the dream.
Harold and his bosses, basic bro Richard (Joel Edgerton) and wolf of Wall Street wannabe Elaine (Charlize Theron), work at a nebulous pharmaceutical company that’s secretly in a precarious financial position. Harold makes regular trips to check on the manufacturing in Mexico, and when Richard and Elaine come along, it results in trouble for Harold.
An under-the-table deal with a drug cartel goes bad and Harold becomes the No. 1 target. But Harold doesn’t want to go home, and thus begins a cycle of Harold faking his own kidnapping, being kidnapped, escaping, being kidnapped again, and so on and so forth.
Everything about “Gringo,” from the storytelling to the comedy to the cinematography, is incredibly lackluster. Oyelowo is quite endearing and funny as Harold, but he’s given very little to work with. The film just feels like it’s missing crucial connecting tissue storywise.
And as much as “Gringo” is missing parts of the story, there are completely superfluous elements as well. Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway show up as a pair of American tourists. The only purpose for this subplot seems to be Sunny (Seyfried) befriending Harold for a short while. “Gringo” feels both interminable and thin: How can every single scene be both unnecessary and dull?
“Gringo” bills itself as a dark comedy because it’s very violent and because corporate piranha Elaine says a lot of shockingly horrible things — racist, sexist, ableist, fat-shaming things. The writers seem to think this makes her edgy, or tough, or worthy of admiration. If her character had any arc, it might make sense, but she doesn’t.
Dark comedy is a difficult needle to thread, and to do it well requires intelligence. The treatment of Elaine isn’t smart at all, just sensationalist and shocking. This “Gringo” is better off staying underground forever.
Rated R for language throughout, violence and sexual content.