Mel Gibson, the mega movie-star of the 1990s is back, in the crime or comedy shambles of a film that is How I Spent My Summer Vacation.
There was a time when Mad Mel was known for his “zany” action characters who would out-quip John McClane, out-crazy Randle P. McMurphy and (somehow) out-fight Jet Li. Then he went all serious by liberating Scotland from the evil English in Braveheart (1995) and nailing Jim Caviezel to a bit of wood, in Aramaic and Latin in The Passion of The Christ (2004).
But now we get What I Did On My Summer Vacation, set in the comedy goldmine of an anarchic Mexican prison.
After the world’s most boring car chase (following an unexplained robbery) Mel’s nameless protagonist is apprehended by corrupt Mexican cops, who decide to take his loot and throw him in prison on a trumped up charge, rather than take his loot and simply kill him. Once in prison this gringo must rely on his wits and fists to survive, which he does by knocking someone out while they’re on the toilet and stealing from a blind man (classy).
After a couple of fights and thefts Mel forms a saccharine and unrealistic friendship with a 10 year old child (growing up in prison with his incarcerated mother) a friendship based on cigarettes and swearing, that leads to a “romance” with the boy’s mother. The narrative (almost) takes a turn for the interesting when it is revealed that the lad is a walking organ donor to the prison’s criminal boss, who has already taken his father’s liver.
The problem isn’t just Mel, or the fact that script isn’t funny, or the characters aren’t engaging, or the narrative is nonsensical, or the story is balls. The biggest problem is that the film is too brutal to be a comedy, too slight to be a drama, too weak to be a thriller and Mel ain’t enough of a star to carry it. Mel using cigarette butts as earplugs (to block out Mariachi music) doesn’t sit with the torture scenes, the Clint Eastwood impression doesn’t work next to all the point blank executions, Mel using an umbrella to avoid the sprinklers he’s just set off (by blowing up an office with a pair of grenades) is UTTERLY at odds with a 10 year old boy stabbing himself in the belly to deny a mob boss his liver and a slo-mo gun battle in the middle of the prison complex seems to have wandered in from another film.
There was one genuine and spontaneous outburst of laughter in the screening I saw, but that was very much laughing at and not with the film.
Given the lawless prison community and the hardened criminal facing insurmountable odds set up, we could have had a classic. Sam Peckinpah would have given us a gritty modern-day Western dealing with revenge and redemption (see 1969’s The Wild Bunch), Asian Cinema would have given us an aria of carnage (check out this month’s The Raid), but Mel gives us this .
Gibson gets a writer /producer / star credit for How I Spent My Summer Vacation, so he should consider himself triply guilty for the mess discharged on the cinema going public.
Mike has given How I Spent My Summer Vacation zero torches of truth.