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The Mexican

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The Mexican (R)

This week I had a rare pleasure -- going to see a movie with someone -- and my companion, as it turned out, had a perfect summary for The Mexican: "I was curious, I'm glad I saw it, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone."

Yes, exactly. The Mexican, which takes its title from the name of the historical gun at the center of the plot, is a sometimes funny, sometimes exciting, comedy/thriller/road trip flick that you might be glad you saw. Or you might not.

Brad Pitt stars as the hapless Jerry, a bumbling flunky for the LA mob who is trying to get out of the business for the sake of his shrewish girlfriend Sam (Julia Roberts). On his final errand, they send him down to Mexico to retrieve the famous, and cursed, pistol The Mexican. In order to guarantee that he doesn't screw up his mission as he's done so many times before, they kidnap Sam as insurance. Her captor is Leroy (James Gandolfini), simultaneously a ruthless killer and sensitive gay guy with whom Sam becomes fast friends in a Hollywood version of the Stockholm Syndrome.

The Mexican sports several good performances, most notably that of Gandolfino who, after his role in The Sopranos, really has the sensitive killer thing down pat. Both his vulnerability and his ruthlessness are beautifully portrayed, and his scenes with Roberts are among the most interesting and best paced of the entire film. Roberts is predictably decent in her bratty, tough girl way, while Pitt manages some good physical comedy. I preferred watching him in this comedic role more than in his usual brooding male-lead capacity.

Nevertheless, there are some seriously troubling aspects to the The Mexican that keep it from being either a good caper or a decent thriller. The pacing for the whole thing is uneven, and several times I found myself wishing for a glowing watch display so I could tell if the darn thing was almost over yet. This is a serious flaw for any movie and worse yet in an action flick.

The stereotypes in the film were also disturbing, for while there were some good sendups of Americans in Mexico, they were outweighed by conventional "tricky Mexican" portrayals and general north-of-the-border snobbery. I'm not just being PC here -- full bodied portrayals of the many Mexican characters and an unbiased look at the amazing landscape would have brought a lot to the film. Instead, we got a lot of "Si, Seor" and virtually no attention at all to the deserts and ancient towns through which Jerry traveled.

Finally, director Gore Verbinski allowed himself to indulge in the Tarantino-esque comic/graphic violence that makes my stomach turn, even when done by the master. When re-done as another genre reference, the violence becomes simply gratuitous.

Still, if you're a fan of comedy and action flicks, you might want to check it out. But I think I'm in agreement with my pal Jill -- I'm not sure I can recommend it.

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