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Wednesday, March 7, 2001

The Mexican

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2001 at 12:00 AM

How does a movie manage to be both romantic and a comedy and not be a romantic comedy? Welcome to the conflicted heart of The Mexican, a farce which relies on dry wit instead of belly laughs, an adventure where personal growth replaces sightseeing.

Jerry (Brad Pitt), a low-rent and hopelessly inept bagman, is sent from Los Angeles to Mexico to pick up a rare, antique pistol. A seemingly simple task, it soon escalates into a bizarrely comic, Job-like test of endurance.

Meanwhile, his fed-up girlfriend, Samantha (Julia Roberts), absconds to Las Vegas ready to commence a bright, new and Jerry-free life. She’s intercepted by an enigmatic thug who calls himself Leroy (James Gandolfini) and told she’ll be held until Jerry delivers the gun known as “the Mexican,” whose mysterious history is the source of several romantic interpretations.

Screenwriter J.H. Wyman (Pale Saints) has a gift for setting up seemingly random moments and having them slowly reveal clues to the inner workings of his clueless but surprisingly charming characters. Director Gore Verbinski (Mouse Hunt) establishes an odd pacing and sparse visuals which give the film the feel of a live-action Road Runner cartoon, albeit one where the established rules of pursuit and retreat have been turned inside out.

The whole affair is enlivened by two performers anxious to put aside movie-star glamour and get grungy. Pitt’s been heading that way for quite some time, trading in the doomed-golden-boy aura of A River Runs Through It for the invigorating sludge of Fight Club — and when Roberts went working-class in Erin Brockovich, she proved she could kick dramaturgical butt with the best of them. They transform two half-baked optimists riding off into the sunset in a beat-up El Camino — the loser-doofus Jerry and Samantha, a knock-kneed tomboy who spews self-help lingo — into the hero and heroine of their own lives.

E-mail Serena Donadoni at letters@metrotimes.com.

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