Call it bad timing. Call it ignorance. Call it laziness. Whichever you choose, Gringo has a problem. A couple of years ago, a film could probably call its villain "the Black Panther" and ignore the fact that the comic book character exists. Now, mere months after the first-ever standalone Black Panther movie became one of the highest-grossing superhero flicks ever made, the name is impossible to overlook. Every time it's mentioned in this crime comedy, the moniker sounds awkward. More than that, it also sounds like screenwriters Anthony Tambakis (Jane Got a Gun) and Matthew Stone (Soul Men) just thought the name was cool, but didn't think much more about it. That seems to have been their general approach anyway — well that and filling the script with as much caper chaos as possible.
Despite regularly travelling to Mexico for his pharmaceutical job, Nigerian immigrant Harold (David Oyelowo) is unaware of the Black Panther's (Carlos Corona) existence. The same can't be said for Promethium's ruthless CEOs, Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine (Charlize Theron). The scheming duo happily took the drug lord's money and supplied him with their medical marijuana pills, but now they're keen to end the arrangement so they can sneakily sell off the business — something else they're keeping from Harold. Of course, when Richard and Elaine accompany their underling on his latest trip across the border, they discover that the Black Panther doesn't want things to change. Rather, he wants the formula to the firm's lucrative product and will do whatever it takes to get it. That includes kidnapping Harold, although the secret recipe is yet another thing the lackey doesn't know. Complicating matters is the fact that, in response to his growing personal and professional troubles, the mild-mannered middle manager has already decided to pretend that he has been abducted.
Gringo's needlessly convoluted narrative is just getting started, with Harold's unhappy wife (Thandie Newton) and Richard's ex-mercenary brother (Sharlto Copley) also playing their parts. So does a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) with no idea that her boyfriend (Harry Treadaway) is trying to smuggle Promethium's drugs back into the US. To the surprise of no one, there's more than one link between the various characters, and between the array of intertwined plot threads. Jam-packed would be the nice way to describe the movie, which has been spliced together by three editors yet drags over its 111-minute running time. Overblown, unfunny, messy and meandering is another way to put it.
If there's any sliver of a saving grace, it comes from Oyelowo and Theron, who stand out among the film's high-profile cast. While neither are at their best, you could put these two in nearly any picture and they'd make a considerable difference, even when they're saddled with woefully underwritten roles. Oyelowo almost makes the hapless Harold's journey believable —emphasis on "almost", because the character's jump from believing in the American dream to breaking bad for revenge feels incredibly convenient. Theron has plenty of fun chewing the scenery as the wily, icy Elaine and certainly makes more of an impression than Edgerton, not to mention the rest of the acting lineup.
The last time Edgerton starred in a big-screen effort by his director brother Nash, the end result was the ace 2008 Australian crime thriller The Square. Nominated for seven AFI Awards, the film boasted well-executed twists, genuine tension and smart black comedy — and Joel co-wrote the script. With a much weaker screenplay, Gringo plays like an overdone, ineffective attempt to up the ante, using similar components but boosting the star power and budget. Still, Nash demonstrates a definite eye for action with his second full-length film, as evident in the movie's shoot-outs and chase scenes. Butby the time these antics properly kick in, it's a case of too little, too late.