- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

"The Mexican," yet another hard-to-digest blend of humor and viciousness, finds it droll to separate co-stars Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt for about three-quarters of an extended runaround that alternates episodes in Mexico and the American Southwest. Whimsically devious and maladroit, the movie degenerates into a sprawling dud while depending on felonious schemes and characters that defy sustained interest.
The characters entrusted to Miss Roberts and Mr. Pitt are well-matched knuckleheads. Hers is a waitress named Samantha who is stalked and abducted on the way to Las Vegas. His is Samanthas boyfriend, an amiable bungler named Jerry who travels to a remote town in Mexico to retrieve an ornate antique pistol on orders from a shadowy employer, a mobster a few days away from parole.
Samantha leaves in high dudgeon after hurling Jerrys suitcase and belongings from the balcony of a third-floor apartment in Los Angeles. She fumes because he has misled her about ending his tenure as a mob bagman. Jerry pleads that the unavoidable mission to Mexico will be his honest-to-goodness swan song as a gangster flunkey.
Several minor characters are supposed to be Mexican and give the visiting gringo a hard time, but the title alludes to the object Jerry seeks. It functions as the MacGuffin, Alfred Hitchcocks term for the coveted, elusive whatever-it-is that gets chase plots off and running, with rivals pursuing it and trying to prevent each other from possessing it.
Jerry ends up in an exotic location that probably would be worth visiting for its own sake: Real de Catorce in San Luis Potosi. A silver-mining boom town in the 19th century, Real is reached by a single road, the last mile or so in a tunnel somewhat expanded from an old mine shaft.
But an interesting place must play second fiddle to plot manipulations and reversals whose cleverness has been overrated grossly by screenwriter J.H. Wyman and director Gore Verbinski.
Predictably, the Mexican changes hands repeatedly. So does a rental car that provides Jerry with fitful transportation. Three legends about a "curse of the Mexican" are depicted each a letdown, leading to the conclusion that the priceless weapon actually is a metaphor for faulty, vainly tricky handiwork, emblematic of the movie itself.
While Jerry is busy chasing the gun and his rental car, Samantha encounters peril and companionship on the road to Vegas the most jinxed highway in recent movie-going. The leading lady spends most of the film in the company of James Gandolfini, cast as a mob thug evidently hired to hold Samantha hostage until Jerry completes his task. Among other amazing fake-outs devised for Mr. Gandolfini, the movie requires him to kill the same rival twice. No explanation for the resurrection after the first killing is given, although it would be easy enough to come up with twins, or even triplets, opening the door for a reprise of the reprise.
This introspective brute endears himself to the heroine by exposing vulnerabilities she can dote on familiarity with the sort of psychobabble Samantha favors, and a streak of sexual deviance. For a while, "The Mexican" seems determined to trump "Will and Grace."
Ultimately, the filmmakers botch all their coy and wayward gambits. They fail to reunite Jerry and Samantha while also protecting a blithe comic investment in Mr. Ganfolfini as Samanthas incongruous new confidant.
The movie is a rambling wreck. It becomes a hostage to arbitrary teases and subterfuges, not to mention lapses of attention. Jerry also is given an eccentric sidekick and protector, J.K. Simmons as a middle-aged mob errand boy named Ted. There comes a point where he simply gets mislaid, a casualty of clumsy plot shuffling.One out of four stars
TITLE: "The Mexican"
RATING: R (Occasional profanity, graphic violence and comic and sexual vulgarity)
CREDITS: Directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by J.H. Wyman.
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes

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