Brad Pitt (Jerry Welbach)
Julia Roberts (Samantha Barzel)
James Gandolfini (Winston Baldry)
J.K. Simmons (Ted)
Bob Balaban (Nayman)
Sherman Augustus (Leroy)
Michael Cerveris (Frank)
MPAA rating: R
U.S. release: March 2, 2001
Video availability: VHS - DVD
reviewed on this website:
lot of star power plugged into a little story usually causes
the story to short-circuit. Movies like The
Negotiator or What
Lies Beneath probably needed their big stars in order
to get produced, but the stars couldn't do much with the rote
stories -- it's a losing scenario for everyone except the studios,
which cleaned up with the aforementioned films and will likely
clean up with The Mexican, the new Brad Pitt/Julia Roberts
vehicle. The movie is neither as good as you might hope (given
that Pitt and Roberts have been excellent elsewhere) nor as bad
as you might fear (or hope, if you enjoy picking apart bad star
vehicles). It just sits there, doing nothing that a competent
made-for-cable movie with C-list stars couldn't do.
Pitt and Roberts are Jerry and Samantha, a quarreling couple
who are in marriage counselling even though they're not married.
Samantha is fed up with Jerry and his recurring obligations to
shady mob figures; Jerry feels unappreciated and misunderstood
-- he's only working for the mob to protect her and himself from
harm. (The obligation goes back to a fender-bender too tedious
to detail here.) Having bungled his previous "last job"
for the mob, Jerry embarks on a last "last job":
find an antique Mexican pistol and deliver it to the mob boss.
In a huff of disapproval, Samantha takes off for her pre-planned
trip to Las Vegas; Jerry heads south of the border.
It's been endlessly pointed out that the script, by J.H. Wyman,
was originally designed for slightly lesser stars than Pitt and
Roberts; I don't know if the material would have felt less routine
with lesser-knowns, though. Director Gore Verbinski (MouseHunt)
keeps things moving, but two hours plus is a long sit for a romantic
comedy -- I generally subscribe to the John Waters dictum that
no comedy has any business crossing the 90-minute mark. We don't
care about Jerry or Samantha; Pitt gives a good-sport, well-meaning-doofus
performance, looking as though he really did this movie
to make a chick flick and make Jennifer Aniston happy, and Roberts
more often than not is too shrill and keyed-up. Together, by
plot design, they have no chemistry. The stars, then, are being
highly paid not to make magic together.
Some incidental pleasures: James Gandolfini, as a hitman who
kidnaps Samantha and gradually wins her platonic affection and
trust, does his usual gruff-teddy-bear thing; he's become a whiz
at it, but if he doesn't watch out he may turn into the next
Joe Pesci, a lovable goombah who's no longer remotely dangerous.
Here and there you get quirky actors like Bob Balaban as a surprisingly
foul-mouthed mob guy (surprisingly for Balaban, who seems too
neat and manicured even to have heard such words), Oz's
J.K. Simmons as a low-level mobster (he's fine as always, but
his waify blonde hairpiece really doesn't go with his
mug), and a nice cameo at the end (spoiled by several critics)
by an acting legend who makes Brad Pitt look like a dinner-theater
actor without even getting up from his chair.
But mainly this is a star vehicle, apparently rewritten as such,
so there are few surprises (aside from a largely irrelevant factoid
about Gandolfini's character which seemingly exists to give Julia
a chance to rehash some My Best Friend's Wedding vibes).
The Mexican is painless enough, a competent no-brainer
with big Hollywood names directed by a non-entity who can be
trusted to park the vehicle without a scratch. I can't really
say what the major difference is between this movie and Julia
Roberts' previous star vehicle, Erin
Brockovich; maybe the difference is the director (Steven
Soderbergh, certainly the opposite of non-entity), or maybe it's
just that Erin Brockovich would've been a good movie even
without Julia, and Julia made it shine. The Mexican probably
would've been a lame movie without Julia and Brad, and it's only
slightly less lame with them; there are too many moments where
you catch them thinking that the movie needs them far more than
they need it.