Published February 1, 2001
It’s got Brad. And Julia. It’s also got a Very Big Star in a surprise cameo in the last reel playing (uncredited) the mysterious tycoon whom everybody has been talking about but no one has seen. And, as if all that were not enough for you, it’s got Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in the very week that the third season of “The Sopranos” premieres, playing, as usual, a gangster and killer but this time one who is—wait for it; you’ll love this—gay! What more could you want from a movie than The Mexican, written by J.H. Wyman and directed by Gore Verbinski, has to offer? Some people there may be who harbor a secret nostalgia for plausible stories, tight plotting and complex characterization, but for most people these days, surely, something like an edition of “Hollywood Squares” with a fair number of well-scripted wisecracks is quite enough to make a movie worth seeing.
Well, we’ll see. But I confess to a certain amount of curiosity as to whether even Brad and Julia (like Arnold and Sly and a very few others, stars big enough to be known only by their first names) and the rest of it will be enough to compensate a very large audience for the absurdity of the story, the incomprehensibility of the plot or the flatness of the characterization. This film’s running time is advertised as being just on two hours, but it seems more like four. Every time you think you might finally be heading down the home stretch to the finish line, the movie takes a detour to give you yet another boring and stupid version of the boring and stupid tale of the Mexican gunsmith and the antique, ornate pistol he made which is the ostensible object of everyone’s interest.
But this time what Hitchcock called the McGuffin positively glories in its irrelevance to what the movie is about—which is providing an opportunity for Brad and Julia to be lovable and attractive as only Brad and Julia can be. In post-modern style, Messrs Verbinski and Wyman want us to know that they know that the story of the gun is the slightest of pretexts for what is going on, so instead of telling us the ridiculous story of the gunsmith in a single melodramatic vignette they do it again and again. The story is so irrelevant and slight and pretexty that it’s a joke. Geddit? And then, just to make the joke even more hilarious the Very Big Star who appears in the final reel offers up the final version of the same story together with a cock-and-bull sequel about how hearing it in prison “changed my life” and set him on the quest for the gun in the first place.
These guys sure have to work hard to persuade us that they’re in the know and not really the incompetents they seem. The story, you will be relieved to hear, was screwed up on purpose. But it takes an odd sort of sensibility to find this joke very funny. There are a few funny bits as Brad and Julia attempt to impersonate the Battling Bickersons, spouting psychobabble about “issues” and “relationships”—in which they are joined, again with the intention of increasing the general hilarity, by the gay version of Tony Soprano. Of course he’s had all those hours on the couch with Dr. Melfi to provide him with the vocabulary to talk about “relationships” with ditzy but lovable Julia. He too has “a hard time keeping relationships together,” but Julia, ostensibly his hostage, helps him to start a new and hopeful one with an itinerant postal worker.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end well for Tony and the postal worker, though this is not their fault. In fact, you could say that Tony, in the Hollywood tradition of gay saintliness, offers up his own life for the heterosexual happiness of Brad and Julia. Not that the happiness looks very happy, but the movie even gives us a moral to cling to amidst all the confusion of unorganized activity that passes for a plot. Try the question out for yourself: “If two people love each other, but they just can’t get it together, when do you get to that point of enough is enough?” The right answer is: “Never.” It’s also a good time to think about going to this movie.