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How I Spent My Summer Vacation - Review

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

IT’S been a long time since Mel Gibson could be seen to be having fun in a movie but How I Spent My Summer Vacation offers a welcome break from some of his more recent material.

That said, it still involves plenty of suffering and huge dollops of violence but this is far and away his most shamelessly enjoyable piece of work since Apocalypto.

What’s more, it’s a refreshingly old school piece of work that owes as much of its inspiration to the late ’60s and early ’70s work of Sergio Leone, Walter Hill and Sam Peckinpah as it does the more modern likes of Tarantino and Gibson’s own back catalogue.

Gibson, who also co-wrote the screenplay, plays a character known simply as Driver, who is first introduced wearing a clown’s outfit and driving a getaway car in a desperate bid to make the Mexican border.

Within moments of crash landing there, however, corrupt federales have stolen his ill gotten gains for themselves and sent him to El Pueblito, a giant penitentiary where the inmates roam ‘free’ with guns and where prostitution and drug trafficking is rife.

Driver isn’t expected to survive but by keeping quiet he learns the tricks of the trade, even befriending a 10-year-old boy (Kevin Hernandez) and his mother (Dolores Heredia) and becoming an unlikely father figure.

This in turn places him at odds with the prison kingpin (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) who has been protecting the boy with an eye on using him for the liver transplant he needs to keep living.

But then Driver has enemies everywhere, from the ruthless businessman (Peter Stormare) who wants his money back to the corrupt officials seeking to exploit Driver for themselves.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation marks the feature film debut of recent Gibson collaborator Adrian Grunberg (who served as assistant director on Apocalypto and second unit director on Edge of Darkness) and while by no means perfect it’s a wild and frequently entertaining ride.

The pacing is brisk, the performances solid and the action suitably muscular, recalling the stylised slo-mo of Peckinpah on one occasion.

And while some may complain that the film is borderline racist and occasionally misogynistic, not to mention unnecessarily violent at times, it’s this refreshingly non-PC approach that makes it all the more addictive. Quite simply, anything goes, whether it’s toes being severed, women being tortured or boys being cultivated as organ donors.

Gibson may look world-weary now but he strolls through proceedings with the look of a man who is enjoying himself, even though his hard-as-nails former sniper recalls elements of Lethal Weapon‘s Riggs, Payback‘s ruthless Porter and Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. But then Gibson is aware of the comparisons and even references Eastwood during one of the film’s more humorous exchanges.

Of the supporting characters, Hernandez and Heredia also make their mark but it’s El Pueblito itself that carries the biggest presence.

Based on a real-life namesake in Tijuana that was home to some 6,000 inmates before it was closed in 2002, the city-like infrastructure of El Pueblito has been fascinatingly recreated at another abandoned penitentiary in Veracruz by Gibson’s production team.

It lends the film an authenticity and identity of its own that makes for captivating viewing. Coupled with Gibson’s star turn How I Spent My Summer Vacation is a cinematic trip worth booking.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 95mins
UK Release Date: May 11, 2012