How I Spent My Summer Vacation Review: Mel Gibson's Latest Comeback

“How I Spent My Summer Vacation'' is a strange mix of prison drama with organ harvesting and action.

rating: 3.5

"It's Mel Gibson'' is what I kept thinking for the first 10 minutes of €œHow I Spent My Summer Vacation'' or €œGet the Gringo€ if you live in the States. Once one of Hollywood's most bankable actors, Mel Gibson's spectacular fall from grace means that when he is starring in a new film, it's like spending time with an old friend that doesn't come around too often. In €œHow I Spent My Summer Vacation,'' Mel Gibson plays a criminal (known only as Driver) in a getaway car being chased by police along the Mexican border. Desperate to escape, Driver steers his car over a mound of dirt and goes straight through the border wall and into Mexico. However, waiting for him on the other side are corrupt Mexican police officials who, after noticing the car is full of money, take Gibson into custody. After being contained in a holding cell, Driver is transferred into the main prison called €œEl Pueblito€ and it's unlike any prison you would expect. €œEl Pueblito€ is a shanty-town/slum/shopping center where convicts live and work together. You have food stalls, huts to score heroin and you can even go watch a wrestling match. Driver at one point asks ''Is this a prison or the worlds shittiest mall?'' He soon befriends a 10 year old boy (Kevin Hernandez) who explains to him the hierarchy in El Pueblito and his own problem with Javi (Daniel Giménez Cacho), the crime lord who is the real power in the prison. Javi is suffering from Liver failure and due to him and the boy sharing a rare blood type, when the time comes for a transplant, Javi will harvest the boy's liver for his own use. From this you have a interweaving storyline where Gibson must use his skills as a career criminal to survive in El Pueblito while becoming emotionally involved with the boy and his mother (Dolores Heredia) and their unique situation. €œHow I Spent My Summer Vacation'' is a strange mix of prison drama with organ harvesting and action. Even though it all works well together to some degree, the feeling that you are watching a bizarre cocktail of ideas doesn't leave you. The film is co-written and directed by Adrian Grunberg who was first assistant director on Mel Gibson's ''Edge of Darkness'' and the superb ''Apocalypto.'' Considering the obvious budget constraints, Grunberg does a great job for a first time director. He manages to draw good performances from most of the main cast as well as give the prison surroundings a sense of a place that you wouldn't want to be trapped in. He also keeps the action sequences sparse and are well executed when they are used. Credit also to cinematographer Benoit Debie (Enter the Void) who brings El Pueblito to life with a liberal use of yellow and orange filters. Gibson himself co-wrote, produced, and funded the film. A point the film goes out of its way to make is that everyone is corrupt. By everyone, I mean the police, prison guards, lawyers, doctors and the general prison population. Apart from the boy and his mother, there are very few redeemable qualities in any of the characters. Stuck in the middle of that you have Driver who is equally morally ambiguous, but Gibson manages to bring Driver's ''good guy'' traits to the surface and leave you with the impression that he has a heart of gold behind all the thieving and murdering. Even when hes beating up a guy sitting on a toilet and steeling his money, you cant help but think that it's your nice uncle doing what he must do in order to survive and you warm to him. The only time i did struggle was when Driver is talking to the boy's mother in what is supposed to be the beginning of their romantic relationship. He tells her about a recurring dream where his ex-girlfriend's new lover is murdered. If a potential partner told me that, it would set alarm bells ringing that this person might not be the best choice for a new lover. Mel Gibson proves that much like he did in ''The Beaver,'' he still has the acting skills and timing that, at his peak, made him one of the worlds biggest movie stars. Gibson can take you along like a roller coaster and he makes you emotionally invest in Driver's predicament like a true master. Kevin Hernandez gives a competent performance as the streetwise 10-year-old and his developing relationship with Driver is totally believable. Daniel Giménez Cacho equally deserves a mention as the subtly menacing Javi. There is also a small cameo by the brilliant Dean Norris who plays an almost carbon copy of Hank Schrader, his character from AMC's Breaking Bad which made me smile. €œHow I Spent My Summer Vacation'' is a fun and enjoyable film but does have a few minor issues. The first and second act of the film is definitely better than the the third. Where the first bit of the film takes its time to introduce and establish everything, the final act seems rushed in an attempt to quickly bring everything to a conclusion and tie up all the loose ends. It's the only film where I've seen a forced transplant taking place during a prison raid as a finale. Some of the humor is hit-and-miss too while other times it seems strangely shoe-horned in. In one scene, two Mexican cops are being tortured while Frank (a crime boss played by Peter Stormare) is interrogating them via the internet. The violence in the film is uncompromising and in this scene, one of the cops has his toes cut off when hes not being cooperative enough. Frank then asks them about his missing money and that they should do the ''arithmetic'' in reference to how much money hes lost. This prompts the Mexican cop with the missing toes to ask ''what is arithmetic?'' which, considering the viciousness of the scene, is a strange place for a laugh out load moment about lingual misunderstanding. The script also struggles in places and you can almost see Gibson typing it as hes speaks the lines but it manages to remain sharp and witty for the majority of the film. Also, some characters are not developed at all and disappear almost as fast as they are introduced, most notably all the American gangsters. €œHow I Spent My Summer Vacation'' is going straight to 'video-on-demand' in America but is receiving a theatrical release everywhere else. This is undoubtedly down to Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic remarks and other off screen controversies that have resulted in his popularity decline in America. The film has been sitting on the shelf for two years now and this dark comedy/action-drama deserves better than to be tainted by Gibson's anger management issues. If the film is being released in Israeli cinemas, I don't see what the issue is for a distributor to give the film, at the very least, a limited run in American cinemas. If €œHow I Spent My Summer Vacation'' must be looked upon as another Mel Gibson comeback, its success largely falls upon your own thoughts about Gibson. The film is very good but if you don't like Gibson, you won't go see it. Where as if you are a fan or have no opinion either way, you will be in for a fun ride that never gets boring. How I Spent My Summer Vacation hits UK cinemas May 11th.
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Child of the 80's. Brought up on Star Trek, Video Games and Schwarzenegger, my tastes evolved to encompass all things geeky.