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'The Mexican': Brad and Julia Misfire

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 2, 2001

   


    'The Mexican' Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts star in "The Mexican." (DreamWorks)
So Brad and Julia finally coordinated their schedules so they could be in the same movie!

As mere mortals, we can only humbly imagine the awesome alignment of personal managers, agents, casting directors and studio executives (and let's not forget their message-taking, coffee-getting underlings) it must have taken to make this event take place. I mean, people should win Oscars for that stuff, right?

But for now, let me take the time to analyze the movie in which these legends have agreed to appear as characters. This terrible movie in which they have agreed to appear, I should add.

It's called "The Mexican" and features Pitt and Roberts (oh dear, am I listing them in the right order?) as two misfit, offbeat lovers. He's Jerry Welbach, a bagman for a crime syndicate who is trying to get out of the business. She's his girlfriend, Samantha, who's dying to be a Vegas croupier and wants Jerry to quit his dirty work.

Unfortunately, Jerry runs a red light, causing an accident, which indirectly sets into motion a whole series of connected events. His boss is sent to jail, leaving the second-in-command, Bernie (Bob Balaban), to give Jerry an ultimatum: complete one more assignment or get killed.

Jerry goes with the life plan. He agrees to go to Mexico and retrieve a priceless collector's item, an antique pistol known as "the Mexican." This gun has a heartbreaking story behind it, which we learn about over the course of the movie.

Samantha is not happy about this extra mission, and she breaks up with Jerry, whom she considers selfish and incompetent at running his life. She splits for Vegas to realize her gaming dream.

Both run into complications. In Mexico, a freak accident leaves Jerry bearing the blame for a dead man.

This makes his bosses even angrier. En route to Vegas, Samantha runs afoul of two hit men (James Gandolfini and Sherman Augustus), who are battling each other to hold her hostage.

The one who calls himself Leroy (Gandolfini) wins the bloody contest and keeps Samantha prisoner until Jerry brings back that gun. Samantha, who's big on the science of romantic relationships, becomes friendly with her captor. And they bond, despite the situation.

There's much more to this, but I would tax your patience and mental energy to describe it all. On the Mexican side of the border, the movie rolls out the familiar cliches: sullen Mexicans sipping tequila in bars, cars being hijacked under gringos' noses, extended scenes of desolate landscapes, Spaghetti Western guitar licks here and there. You get the idea. Pitt has some very funny moments, but he's the only attraction in a pretty mediocre sojourn in Mexico.

Meanwhile, in the gaming state, it's time for Julia to be Julia, playing cute, crying, smiling, widening her eyes, puffing out that Firestone upper lip and occasionally dipping into that basso profundo voice for comedic effect. It's a familiar routine, which she can do in her sleep; she almost does.

She's not nearly as funny or appealing as Gandolfini, the star of "The Sopranos," a truly funny guy. It's his hangdog, deadpan performance that makes her character look better, which makes his look even better. When Samantha asks Leroy if he's going to kill her, he replies: "Depends on too many variables to answer right now."

Of course, much of the credit for the funny nuggets must go to J.H. Wyman's script, which makes "The Mexican" much more tolerable than it deserves to be. But for the most part, the movie – thanks to the uber-presence of Pitt and Roberts – feels patently inauthentic. For one thing, both stars spend most of the movie apart. Perhaps this is where all those agents and personal managers exercised their "talents," by making sure their clients got to strut their stuff individually, while smaller marquee names provided ego-less backup. The result: At no point do Jerry and Samantha seem romantically connected at all. And what is meant to be the movie's biggest concern – together or not – becomes its smallest.

"The Mexican" (R, 123 minutes) – Contains violence and strong language.

 

Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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