Few films released in UK cinemas this year have carried as much baggage as Mel Gibson’s latest outing How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Get the Gringo, 2012), directed by Adrian Grunberg. The recent release of a tape containing an irate Gibson screaming obscenities at Basic Instinct (1992) scriptwriter Joe Eszterhas was the latest example of the US-born actor’s appetite for self-destruction, with many commentators quick to claim that he’d finally banged the final nail in his film career coffin.
Your own personal opinion of Gibson may well effect your decision to go and see his latest movie, and its unlikely that any amount of positive praise will make a blind bit of difference. On the other hand, if you prefer to separate a man from his art then How I Spent My Summer Vacation is well worth the ticket price for those looking for efficient entertainment.
Gibson plays ‘Driver’, an anonymous American bank robber who is thrown into a Mexican jail after crashing through the border with a few million dollars in stolen cash. El Puebilto, based on a real life prison, is a walled town were inmates live with family members and gangsters run the show. Inside, big boss Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) has both a rare blood type and a dodgy liver, with the only suitable donor a chain-smoking 10-year-old urchin (Kevin Hernandez) who resides in El Pueblito with his gutsy mother (Dolores Heredia) – which is where Driver steps in as the boy’s unlikely protector.
Admittedly the organ donor plot device is entirely ridiculous and only truly there to provide a reason why Javi can’t kill the kid from the off, the script, written by Gibson and first-time director Grunberg, suspends disbelief just enough for How I Spent My Summer Vacation to work. The transplant saga actually plays second fiddle to Driver’s escapades in the prison – in fact El Pueblito is arguably the star of the show, its seedy backstreets and market stalls beautifully constructed and skilfully shot. This might be Grunberg’s first job at the helm, but it certainly won’t be his last.
As for Gibson, he’s an old pro at the action flick template and few can balance laughs and drama with such relative ease. His grizzled, fiendishly clever character tricks and shoots his way through a superb blend of both wit and charm, and it’s good to see Gibson finally back in familiar territory, despite of his personal demons.
Against all of the odds, How I Spent My Summer Vacation vacation is arguably the best shoot-em-up of the year so far, and it would be a crying shame for this to be Gibson’s swansong regardless of its quality. The man might have some serious issues, but there’s clearly plenty of life in the old dog yet.