THE MEXICAN has arrived, and will, no doubt, soon be on its way. It is a classic case of a star vehicle without the performance features or the creature comforts of a first rate means of transportation. Star vehicles are those films that are meant to carry the already famous actor down the road of continuing fame and fortune. In these cases, the plot matters less for its complexity than for the turns it allows the stars to take. Vehicles don’t provide great stretches but they dare not be setbacks either. A “vehicle” has more of the qualities of a Bentley—gliding silently and effortlessly down the road—than of a Masserati or Ford. Some vehicles are one seaters; many are built for two. THE MEXICAN calls for two seats but someone decided to alternate putting Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts in the driver’s seat while tucking away the other one out of sight in the trunk.
of the greatest vehicles of all time were those featuring Spencer Tracy
and Katherine Hepburn. Films like ADAM’S RIB, DESK SET or PAT AND
MIKE certainly deserve to set the standard for the high quality, two seat
star vehicle. These films revoled around the give and take between
the two actors who could make walking across a room, preparing a meal or
typing a note into an interaction of memorable proportions. The banter,
thegestures, the body language and the glint in the eye all sparked with
a barely contained current. Every moment was alive with the sense
of two human beings encountering one another with their heart, their wiles,
and will. THE MEXICAN has none of that. It doesn’t have much
of anything else, either. Well, that’s not entirely fair.
The movie probably “belongs” to Brad Pitt primarily since it is an action yarn that sends Pitt, a ne’er do well with good intentions and a bumbling manner to Mexico to retrieve a legendary pistol. Julia Roberts is the woman left behind, a condition she refuses to take sitting down. Roberts’s feistiness puts her on the road to Las Vegas and propels her into the hands of a gentle giant of a hit man, played by Gandolfini. It is only one of the curiosities of the movie that Roberts and Gandolfini have far more intimate moments together than she and Pitt do. Pitt’s agent may have been asleep at the switch on this one since it relegates him to the second banana role even if he does get more screen time
There is the usual gamut of stereotypes in the film as well. This seems to be something of a requirement for a Hollywood film dealing with another culture, TRAFFIC and a few other exceptions notwithstanding, but at least it skews and distorts the white characters as much as it does the Mexican ones. A rounded, complex character is not to be found, except, perhaps, for the jolly giant of a hit man with a soft spot for bald-headed men, but star vehicles are not to be faulted for their lack of social conscience so much as for their lack of octane in the tank. When this kind of vehicle sputters to a stop it almost exposes the stereotypes as the pathetic attempts to kick-start a lemon that can’t start itself that they are. THE MEXICAN is playing now but not, I hope, for long. Looking at movies that look at the world, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Bill Nichols.
c Bill Nichols 2001