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THE MEXICAN

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Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini, J.K Simmons
Director:  Gore Verbinski
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS
Video:  2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio:  DreamWorks
Features:  See Review
Length:  123 minutes
Release Date:  August 7, 2001

“I need a lift in your el truck-o… to the next town-o.

Film **

I have a great idea for a film!   We’ll take two of Hollywood’s hottest stars: one, right off the Tarantino-esqe hit Snatch, and the other, one of America’s most beloved (and overrated) actresses, practically guaranteed to win an Oscar for her role in Erin Brockovich, and put them together!  Oh, how the dollars will flow!  Not only will people love the fact that these two incredibly sexy stars will be paired together in a quirky romantic comedy, but we’ll also make it a frenetically paced crime comedy/drama, even throwing in “Tony Soprano” himself as a gay hitman (insert crude joke here) to mix it up!  The film will be edgy yet cute, stylish and yet down to earth, but most importantly, a cash cow.  This was probably somewhat along the lines of what producers were thinking when they contemplated making The Mexican. 

The plot of The Mexican is an interesting one, at least on paper.  Jerry (Pitt), who had five years ago been forced into the employ of a powerful crime boss due to a simple mistake, is finishing up his last job.  Hopeful to spend the rest of his life with Samantha (Roberts), his outspoken girlfriend, he arrives at his job to say goodbye.  Unfortunately for Jerry, his “last job” didn’t go so well, meaning he must perform one more job: recovering a legendary Mexican pistol from over the border. 

Samantha, irate at the idea, and thinking Jerry is choosing his work over living in Las Vegas with her, breaks up with him and goes on by herself.  Jerry, somewhat dejected, but realizing he must get the job done, proceeds for the border.  Unfortunately, everyone else seems to want the pistol just as much as Jerry’s bosses, and are anxious to see Jerry part with it.  His bosses, thinking Jerry’s trying to steal the pistol out from under them, send a hit man named Leroy (Gandolfini) to hold Samantha hostage.    

Yet despite what sounded like an interesting plot with a high caliber cast, the movie was only a modest success at the box office.  So why isn’t the film on everyone’s top ten list?   For one, the movie feels completely forced.   The scenes that occur in this “romantic comedy” between Roberts and Gandolfini are often unrealistic and feel scripted.   As well, it’s often hard to have a successful romantic comedy when the romantic leads spend most of the movie apart from each other (less than ten minutes together out of over two hours).

Second, the performances here are far below expectations.  While I expect Roberts to play the same character she does in every movie, I was anticipating much more out of Pitt and Gandolfini.  Sadly, it seems that the two of them either needed more interesting characters, or better direction.  Pitt’s acting, while funny at times, is nowhere near the scope of his performances in Fight Club or Snatch.  Gandolifini as well does an unimaginative job in his role as a gay version of the Tony Soprano character, even using the character’s North Jersey accent (I sure hope that he has more range than that single persona or he’ll be the next David Caruso). 

In closing, the way this cluttered film turns out, it would have almost been better to have two separate tales: one, concerning Roberts’ and Gandolfini’s characters, and the relationship that forms between them, and the other, concerning Brad Pitt’s character and his hunt for the legendary Mexican pistol.   Sadly, when the two ideas are smacked together the movie just doesn’t gel (and goes on WAY too long), resulting in the feeling that the screenwriters were trying to go in too many different directions at once.

Video ****

As expected, no matter what the film is, DreamWorks is sure to deliver.  This is a beautifully done transfer worthy of praise.  Colors are bright and shining, with blacks that are deep and rich.  Some of the scenes contain a faded washed out look similar to some of those in Three Kings, particularly some of those shot in Mexico, but the transfer handles these scenes easily as well.

Audio ****

Contained on the disc is both a DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 track.  While I prefer the DTS track, both are highly engaging tracks with plenty of effects.  Dialogue is crisp and mostly comes from the center channel, although there are some great moments of directionality.  All in all, sound is handled well through this surprisingly lively track, and there are plenty of moments where music and other sound cues dance about the room.          

Supplements ***

Included first on the disc is a commentary with Director Gore Verbinski as well as the screenwriter and editor for the film.  All in all, the commentary wasn’t terrifically impressive, as the people involved don’t seem too interested in what they’re watching.  Next on the disc was “HBO’s The Making of the Mexican.”  Knowing that HBO produced this featurette I groaned, as they are known for not producing anything but puff pieces that are like commercials for the film, making them worthless for a DVD.  Sadly this is the case, as the featurette consists of everyone basically saying “oh I just LOVE working with so and so.” 

After that are eight deleted scenes with a director commentary.  Overall this was probably the most engrossing part of the disc, as the scenes help to flesh out the characters and their motivations.

Finally rounding out the disc are the typical cast and crew filmographies, as well as a theatrical and teaser trailer.  

Summary:

While the film often suffers from not knowing what genre it’s supposed to fit into, DreamWorks has still provided a nearly flawless transfer with adequate supplements.  Now if only they had done such a commendable job making sure this film was better.