Rated R - Running Time: 2:03 - Released 3/2/01

The Mexican pairs two of Hollywood's most popular stars, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, for a gritty romance that, while presenting a largely enjoyable moviegoing experience, suffers somewhat from a strange juxtaposition of disparate styles. Part feel-good romantic comedy and part crime drama, The Mexican keeps Pitt and Roberts apart for most of the film's duration, so those who go to see them together may be somewhat disappointed. Their connection is funny and they seem to enjoy interacting, but what you've seen in the trailer is just about all there is. Roberts's real partner for most of the film is The Sopranos's James Gandolfini, and his relationship with her is arguably more enjoyable than Pitt's. And while there are some really funny moments in the film, there is also a lot of violence, as if director Gore Verbinski (Mouse Hunt) and writer J.H. Wyman couldn't come to an agreement about what kind of movie they're making.

Pitt plays Jerry Welbach, an absent-minded doofus from L.A. who stumbled into a world of crime when he crashed his car into that of a sinister and powerful crime lord named Margolis. While he and his girlfriend Sam (Roberts) are busy trying to reconcile their problematic relationship (which, at her insistence, includes attending group therapy), he is forced to "pay off his debt" to Margolis by working for his band of thugs. Having screwed up numerous jobs and thereby thoroughly vexed his stern mid-level boss, Nalin (Bob Balaban), he has only one task left to fulfill his contract: travel to Mexico and retrieve a priceless antique handgun called "The Mexican" for Margolis's collection. But Sam is so sick of Jerry's life of crime, she demands that he refuse the assignment or she will leave him. Fearing for his life, he accepts the job and heads for Mexico, while she travels to Las Vegas to begin a new life without him. However, when Jerry gets to his destination, he finds that the gun has a long history, not to mention a curse, attached to it, and the locals have no desire to let it out of the country. Several things go wrong and Nalin begins to suspect Jerry of trying to con him and Margolis out of the gun. He sends an associate (J.K. Simmons) to get the gun and get rid of Jerry, and another (Gandolfini) to find Sam and hold her hostage, just for good measure.

The relationship established between Roberts and Gandolfini is easily the most enjoyable aspect of this movie. Although she is understandably scared and angry at first, he is such a thoughtful captor that they form a friendship and begin to confide their deepest secrets to each other, including her relationship problems and his homosexuality. But some of the troubles they get into have truly disturbing results, and these moments seem all the more jarring in the context of the film's otherwise lighthearted nature. This can also be said of the various tellings of the gun's disputed legend, which always begin with the sound of a movie projector running (suggesting a tongue-in-cheek attitude) but sometimes end badly.

Overall, The Mexican is an enjoyable, well-told tale with the kind of mythic quality that suggests a slight distance from reality, but I think it is somewhat defeated by its own trailer, which may plant expectations in some moviegoers minds — expectations that cannot and will not be fulfilled. Incidentally, Pitt/Roberts fans will get another chance to see them together this year, as they are scheduled to appear in Steven Soderbergh's star-studded remake of the 1960 rat pack comedy Ocean's Eleven, scheduled for release this December. ****

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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