[box cover]

The Mexican

Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are very different types of movie stars. Pitt, though he had his chance to court mainstream audiences by pursuing further pap like Legends of the Fall, has bravely chosen a slate of edgier, less user-friendly vehicles, like Seven and Fight Club. Roberts has done nothing of the sort. Her appeal, even in her Oscar winning role in Erin Brokovich, is her predictability. She will be charming, she will be sassy, and she will smile that smile that she smiles. She is safe and bland, and that is why people love her. The problem with The Mexican — the movie that somewhat stupidly pairs the two on-screen for the first time — is that it is more a Brad Pitt movie than a Julia Roberts movie. Gore Verbinski's indie-spirited caper stars Pitt as a hapless dope caught in the Jerry Lewis-esque scenario of incompetently working off five years of indentured servitude to a local mobster. After a series of foul-ups, his last mission, on which his very life depends, is traveling deep into Mexico and retrieving a priceless, ornate, cursed pistol. Roberts, his neurotic girlfriend, is meanwhile kidnapped by a sensitive hit man (James Gandolfini) to insure Pitt's reliability. Much has been made of the fact that Pitt and Roberts spend very little time together in The Mexican. In doing so, however, they neatly divide the film up into its good parts (with Pitt) and its bad parts (with Roberts). Pitt fits perfectly into the antic confusion, relishing the opportunity to explore comedic material. Roberts, however, is lost. When she indulges in hysterics she does so with forced awkwardness, and when she's given her movie queen close-ups, the film loses its edge. It's a no-win situation. Another actress, with grittier edges, like Renee Zellwegger, might've made the film better. Maybe. The Roberts section is also saddled with a dull subplot concerning the closet gay identity of Gandolfini, but it's such an uninteresting sidebar it feels like the filmmakers were on a social mission to force-feed mainstream audiences with images of Julia Roberts smiling at and approving of a gay person. Not only is it boring, but it's also smarmy, especially as it milks the ironic twist on a gay stereotype for effect. The other big problem with The Mexican is director Verbinski, who is a gifted visualist, but from listening to his director's commentary, seems to have been making a different, more meaningful movie than the comedic caper he ended up with. He speaks about how his film addresses important social and romantic issues, while the only apparent motifs are bathroom scenes and traffic lights. Also with a brief appearance by Gene Hackman, and a score from Alan Silvestri that warrants a lawsuit from Ennio Morricone. DreamWorks has put together a fine DVD package for this inconsistent film, with an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and audio in DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 Surround. Features include an inane commentary by Verbinski, screenwriter J.H. Wyman, and editor Craig Wood, an EPK-style behind-the-scenes featurette, and eight deleted scenes with commentary (the final deleted scene is entitled, "A Dull Ache," which aptly describes the effect these outtakes and their accompanying commentary have on the viewer — perhaps the first combination of commentary and extra footage that makes the film seem worse than it actually is). Trailers, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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