Sophomore director Nash Egerton’s unsavory, amoral, comedy of errors “Gringo” (* OUT OF ****) qualifies as contrived, convoluted, and ultimately incoherent. This nice-guys-finish-first comedy pits a clueless hero against his unscrupulous superiors at a pharmaceutical firm that plans to corner the American market with a marijuana pill. Were this not enough, our gullible hero must also dodge a trigger-happy Mexican cartel boss with a fondness for the Beatles! A midlevel executive at a Chicago pharmaceutical firm, Nigerian immigrant Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo of “Selma”) finds himself caught in the crossfire between his own pharmaceutical company that wants him dead as well as a homicidal cartel which wants him alive. Our hero’s superiors are two treacherous co-executives who don’t trust each other. They decide to liquidate Harold while they orchestrate a merger with another pill company. Somewhere in “Gringo” lurked a provocative comedy about pharmaceutical skullduggery, but director Nash Egerton and his scenarists muddle the melodramatics with too many subplots and too many characters. The gratuitous violence and the number of gunmen getting slaughtered serve as a dire substitute for humor. The uneven Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone screenplay jumbles the chain of events so the action starts in the middle and then flashes back to the beginning. The primary villains, Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton of “Warrior”) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron of “Atomic Blonde”), own a company named Promethium that has been manufacturing a pill called Cannabax. They argue that once pot becomes legal all over America, Cannabax will swamp the market like Viagra. Not only do Rusk and Elaine feed our hero Harold to the wolves for the sake of profit, but they also infuriate a cartel which had been their partner in Mexico. An eccentric gallery of goofballs, these nitwits fight among themselves, while Harold struggles to survive. All Mexicans are stereotyped as dishonest, untrustworthy scoundrels with no qualms about murder. Since everybody is prepared to betray each other, few of the surprises that Egerton and his scribes pile into this potboiler are revelatory. Out of all the many surprises and reversals, only one pays off.
Harold Soyinka has known Richard Rusk since they attended college. Rusk considers Harold a bosom buddy. Not only did Rusk hire him at Promethium as a midlevel executive, but he also hired Harold’s wife, Bonnie (Thandie Newton of “Good Deeds”), as his interior designer! Repeatedly, Rusk has assured Harold that our hero need not fret about his future. Unfortunately, Harold doesn’t know that Bonnie has been sleeping with Rusk. Harold’s friend and accountant, Stu (Bashir Salahuddin of “Snatched”), suggests that Harold intervene in Bonnie’s interior design business before she bankrupts him. Eventually, Harold is shocked to learn that Bonnie’s debts have him poised on the abyss of bankruptcy! Ironically, Harold has spent his entire life being honest. Tragically, he realizes everybody has been taking advantage of him! Making matters even worse, Stu warns Harold he may soon be unemployed, because Rusk and Elaine are plotting a merger. Indeed, everybody else at Promethium uses Stu as their accountant. Harold asks Rusk about the merger, but Rusk lies to Harold that all will be okay. Meantime, Rusk informs Harold that Elaine and he will accompany him to Mexico on his next regular visit to the Cannabax plant, so they can resolve an inventory problem. Naturally, Harold knows nothing about a cartel connection. Foolishly, Rusk and Elaine plan to kaput their partnership with notorious cartel honcho, Juan Miguel Villegas (Carlos Corona of “Cantinflas”), whose nickname is “Black Panther.” Moreover, they want to dispose of Harold. Sensing his impending betrayal, Harold pays two low-life motel owners to pose as kidnappers and abduct him. He plans to share with them the ransom that Rusk will pay. Meantime, Villegas’ henchmen scour everywhere for Harold because Harold is the only one who can open the Cannabax plant safe and hand over the formula to Villegas.
Initially, Richard decides to save Harold from the kidnappers. He contacts a mercenary, Mitch (Sharlto Copley of “Chappie”), who happens to be his estranged brother. Actually, Mitch is a hitman trying to atone for his dark past. Meaning, he has no stomach for killing. No sooner has Mitch rescued Harold than he discovers that Harold had staged his own kidnapping! Harold, however, doesn’t trust Mitch, and he flees from him. Meantime, Rusk discovers a clause in the company’s corporate life insurance policy that awards $5-million dollars to Promethium if an employee is killed on foreign soil. Now, Rusk wants Mitch to slay Harold rather than save him. Harold manages to elude not only Mitch, but also the cartel because he has a guardian angel who has been watching over him. Were this not convoluted enough, Rusk’s jealous partner Elaine blows the whistle on him to keep from going to jail as a conspirator. A frivolous subplot about a creepy guitar salesman, Miles (Harry Treadaway of “City of Ember”), who drags his oblivious girlfriend, Sunny (Amanda Seyfried of “Mean Girls”), to Mexico so he can steal some Cannabax pills for a Los Angeles drug designer to duplicate the formula complicates matters. These two characters spot Harold on a highway after he escapes from the cartel, but they add little depth to the plot. Amanda Seyfried is squandered in a minor supporting role, but Thandie Newton fares even worse in a cameo as Harold’s adulterous wife.
“Gringo” resembles a puzzle missing important pieces. You need a score card to keep track of all the characters. The logic of the premise seems flawed, too. Why would Rusk and Elaine keep the Cannabax formula locked up in a safe in faraway Mexico? Why would they want to liquidate Harold when only his thumb print can open that safe? Just because a movie has dozens of buffoons swarming around in crazy circles doesn’t make it hilarious, no matter how prestigious its cast. Despite its polished production values and stellar cast, “Gringo” amounts to a bust.