Monday, 28 May 2012

[555] How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2012) Review

Let’s face it. If you were Mel Gibson, you would want a holiday. But he’s not jetting off into the sunset just yet. No, with his public reputation in tatters, and his movie career in freefall, the actor-filmmaker has drafted his own action-packed comeback, the sweat-soaked, bullet-ridden lark How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

Gibson stars as a grizzled career criminal - a Man-With-No-Name listed in the production notes as Driver - who within minutes literally jumps the USA-Mexico border with a car full of cash. Apprehended by the corrupt Mexican police force, the crook is banged up in an open-plan prison-cum-slum, while the coppers make off with the dough. Left to fend for himself in this minimum-security favela, Driver must deal with his fellow inmates before finding a way to reclaim his money.

Despite his rather one-dimensional name, though, Driver quickly reveals himself to be more of a suits-any-purpose tough guy. His impressive CV includes petty street crime, the US Army and various gangs, giving him a unique skill-set that covers pickpocketing, sniping and cool observation - all of which serve him well when navigating the prison’s dangerous microcosm. But wait, he’s not just a brash brute. He’s also a kind-hearted fellow, and upon discovering that the prison isn’t only populated by macho gents, he soon takes under his wing a young scamp (Kevin Hernandez) and his victimised, yet strong-willed mother (Dolores Heredia).

Directed by first-time director Adrian Grunberg, How I Spent My Summer Vacation (known as Get The Gringo in the US, where it isn’t even receiving a theatrical release) is co-written and co-produced by Gibson himself, under his Icon Productions banner. While the actor may not be in the director’s chair this time around - and Summer Vacation has little in common with Gibson’s cinematic epics - a glance at Grunberg’s filmography reveals First Assistant Director gigs on both Apocalypto and Edge of Darkness, Gibson’s last stab at action-tinged mainstream cinema. Conspiracy theorists, determined to feed the controversy machine, will no doubt attempt to out Grunberg as a Gibson stooge. Of course, this is preposterous, but the star’s hand is nevertheless present throughout the film.

After all, whichever way you cut it, this is a vanity project. At its worst, you have the sort of flattering writing that only delights the star in question. In playing Driver - who, it must be stressed, is supposed to be a wheelman for a botched robbery - Gibson gets to play the lovable rogue, the surrogate father, and the morally-ambiguous anti-hero. He spouts witty one-liners like a reincarnated Raymond Chandler character, before engaging in expert moves that range from slow-motion gunfights to elaborate, explosive con artistry. He even gets the last laugh.

But what a laugh. Gibson’s charm and charisma - the effortless way that he waltzes through the plot’s messy mix of dark comedy, cloying drama and over-the-top action - have been barely dimmed by age. Indeed, there are few actors who can crack wise with bent border officials in one scene, only to chuck grenades in goons’ faces in the next.

For those yearning for the uncomplicated, iconic Mel of old - the smirking hero that many used to know and love - there are fun, escapist moments aplenty in this crackerjack crime caper. Although, it must be asked, whose escapism is How I Spent My Summer Vacation serving - that of the audience, or of Gibson himself?

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