The Mexican

          THE MEXICAN is a romance-road movie-action-adventure-
  comedy-drama that is really three films rolled into one. Top billed Brad Pitt
  and Julia Roberts play a bickering pair of lovebirds -- Jerry Welbach and
  Samantha Barzel. Jerry and Sam are having "issues" in their relationship
  and the film opens with a shot of them in the morning when it is clear
  from the expression on Jerry's face that despite the peace and quiet,
  everything isn't okay. Indeed, it isn't long before all hell breaks loose.

          Jerry is a low-level gangster working off a debt to a mob boss (the
  audience is later clued into how he "accidentally" came to be affiliated
  with his cohorts) and Samantha is a woman with a dream to move to
  Las Vegas and become a croupier. Like Michael Corleone, just when
  Jerry thinks he's out, they pull him back in. He's been given the option
  of either retrieving an antique pistol (the titular "Mexican") and the
  young man who owns it or, well ... , death. Given those extremes,
  Welbach naturally chooses to head south. Samantha isn't quite so
  understanding and issues her own ultimatum: the mob or me. ("It's
  always about your needs!" she shouts as she is tossing his belongs out
  the window.) When it becomes clear to her that Jerry is going to go
  after the gun, she takes off for Vegas.

          It is at this point that the film splits into two separate, but related,
  road movies. The script by J.H. Wyman (a.k.a. Joel Wyner) crosscuts
  between Jerry's misadventures in Mexico and Samantha's ordeal: On her
  way to Vegas, she's accosted by one hit man (Sherman Augustus) and
  kidnapped by another (James Gandolfini).

          Jerry's story is the more comic, as he obtains -- and continually
  loses -- the pistol which purportedly carries a malediction. (One of the
  recurring jokes in the film is that there are numerous and different stories
  about how and why the gun came to be cursed; each is acted out in silent
  movie fashion.) The thick-skulled Jerry easily could believe the Mexican
  has some bad mojo attached to it, given what happens to him. He finds
  the gun with relative ease, but in short order, its owner suffers an accident,
  Jerry's car is stolen and his bosses in California believe he may be
  double-crossing them. And he's not even aware of Samantha's plight.

          Samantha tries to convince her captor that she and Jerry are kaput,
  but she realizes that it ultimately doesn't matter. As an avid reader of
  self-help books, she quickly begins to befriend the hit man and deduces
  some not so obvious facts about him. In an odd combination of Stockholm
  Syndrome and actually bonding, she and the gangster begin to establish
  an easy rapport that borders closely on friendship.

          After more than an hour of these separate storylines,
  finally reunites Sam and Jerry. Just when the movie feels like its winding
  down -- there's one particular scene that has a finality to it -- the action
  veers off into another, albeit satisfying, direction.

          Wyman's screenplay isn't quite successful in marrying its separate
  parts but director Gore Verbinski keeps things moving and manages
  to smooth over most of the rough patches. He has a more assured touch
  with this material in comparison with his frenetic handling of his debut,
MOUSE HUNT. Yet, the juxtaposition of comic material with the
  sometimes violent action doesn't quite come together. In these
PULP FICTION times, nothing seems to be novel or surprising.

          Verbinski does get a terrific lead performance from Pitt, who after
  dark material like
FIGHT CLUB seems to relish the chance to loosen up.
  (In some ways, his turn in
SNATCH was a warm-up for this role.) Always
  a physical actor, Pitt gets a lot of mileage out of Jerry and his travails
  and he enjoys a nice chemistry with both Roberts and J.K. Simmons as
  his mentor Ted. It should be noted that Simmons is fast becoming one
  of the screen's best utilitarian character actors.

          After her tour de force in
  disappointment in her role. She is clearly trying to "act" and therein lies
  the trouble: her efforts call attention to her craft or lack thereof. As
  usual, she resorts to falling back on her million-dollar smile which frankly
  is beginning to wear thin. Yet, when she and Pitt share scenes, there is
  a spark; each seems to bring out a playful side in the other.

          The real surprise of
THE MEXICAN is James Gandolfini. Since he
  has become so associated with his Emmy-winning role as Tony Soprano,
  it is easy to forget just how gifted an actor he is. Here, despite
  playing another cold-blooded killer, he gets to display a more sensitive
  side and he dominates every scene he's in, the majority of which are
  opposite Roberts.

          THE MEXICAN may have benefited from more scenes between Pitt
  and Roberts, as well as tighter editing and a more definitive ending.
  In spite of its flaws, though, the film proves to be an enjoyable romp that
  should please audiences.

Rating:                        B-
MPAA Rating:                  R for violence and language
Running time:              123 mins.
© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.