The Mexican (15)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD FEATURES: Production notes, biographies, Making of The Mexican, commentary from Gore Verbinksi, the writer and editor. Eight deleted scenes.

ORIGINALLY envisaged as a modest little movie, featuring relatively unknown leads, The Mexican has subsequently become a major star vehicle for not one, but three of the hottest stars currently doing the rounds States-side. Julia Roberts, off the back of her Oscar triumph in Erin Brockovich; Brad Pitt, enjoying a return to super-cool status after great roles in Fight Club and Snatch; and James Gandolfini, aka Tony Soprano of The Sopranos fame, have all helped to make the movie one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of the year. But with such star power comes the burden of expectation and while The Mexican is undoubtedly a very enjoyable Saturday night flick, the more discerning viewer may emerge disappointed, having come to expect a little more.

For me, though, director Gore `Mousehunt' Verbinski's movie is an effortless, somewhat quirky, joyride of a movie, slickly put together, intelligently scripted and with a nice balance between romance and action which should keep both the guys and the girls happy.

Pitt stars as Jerry Welbach, a reluctant bagman for the Mob, who is constantly at odds with both his employers and his troublesome girlfriend, Samantha (Roberts). When he is forced to travel across the border to retrieve a priceless antique pistol known as the Mexican, a gun that carries with it a legendary curse and all manner of mishaps, he also invokes the wrath of Samantha, who instead heads for Las Vegas.

Enter Gandolfini's gay hitman, Leroy, who takes her hostage in the belief that "he who controls the girl, controls the gun". And it is in the casting of Gandolfini that the movie really hits the target. Whereas Pitt and Roberts are fine in their respective roles - Pitt, in particular, manages to balance his trademark cool with a certain comic ineptitude - it is Gandolfini who steals all of the best moments, and lines - his "I'm here to regulate the funkiness" is an absolute classic.

The heavyweight actor - who builds on scene-stealing turns in movies such as True Romance, Crimson Tide and Get Shorty - is a joy whenever on screen and anyone expecting a mere reprisal of his TV persona is in for a surprise. His Leroy is a cold-blooded killer when necessary but he also has a heart of gold and his interplay with Roberts - during which he examines relationships and the loneliness that comes with his profession - lend the film an emotional gravitas that is not immediately apparent from the outset. Roberts, in turn, rises to the challenge and makes what could have been an extremely irritating, loud-mouthed character, into quite a sensitive one.

Pitt, meanwhile, is left to work on his own, coming up against all manner of mean-spirited Mexicans, corrupt officials and mobster colleagues who seem to be working to their own agenda.

It is during his scenes that the movie tips its sombrero to many others in the genre, evoking memories of Sam Peckinpah classics while at the same time never forgetting that it is also a product of the post-Tarantino wordy but violent school of film-making. Verbinski's use of location is also first-rate, as is his handling of the action sequences, and there are enough surprises along the way to make this different take on a familiar theme a funky enough night out for the masses.