When Brad met Julia, briefly
There’s a motif that runs through The Mexican. It’s introduced by a mob enforcer named Leroy (James Gandolfini), talking to Samantha (Julia Roberts), a woman he has kidnapped to make sure her feckless boyfriend Jerry (Brad Pitt) follows through on his latest assignment. “When two people love each other but they just can’t get it together, when do you get to the point when enough is enough?” Later, during a lull in the action, Samantha poses the same question to Jerry. In both cases, we are told, the correct answer is “Never.”
That may be the case with love; it’s debatable. Evidently, director Gore Verbinski and writer J. H. Wyman think it’s true of movies, too. But they’re wrong. In a movie, it’s always possible to get to where enough is enough, and The Mexican reaches that point about 15 minutes before the end.
Up till then it’s a rollicking ride. At the outset, Jerry is dispatched to Mexico to retrieve a pistol on behalf of his employer, a shadowy crime lord named Margulies. But it’s no ordinary pistol Jerry is sent after; this is a legendary piece of gunsmithery known as “the Mexican,” reputed to be the most beautiful firearm ever built. I’m no connoisseur of such things, but it looked a bit much to me: about the size and color of an Irish setter’s hind leg, with flittery silver filigree, a cross between an 18th-century dueling pistol and a revolver with a heart-shaped cylinder. In any case, it’s one of the oddest things you ever saw, and it’s no surprise to learn that the first time it was tested it backfired, killing the man who was holding it. Seems there’s been a curse on the gun ever since.
Jerry suffers under the curse within minutes of his first glimpse of the gun. His contact in Mexico hands over the gun, then is almost immediately killed in a freak accident. Next, Jerry’s rented El Camino, with the gun in the glove compartment, is stolen. Only then does Jerry learn that the recently deceased contact was the grandson of the mysterious Margulies. And it looks to Margulies as if Jerry has either screwed up or, worse, betrayed him.
It’s about this time that Samantha is taken hostage by Leroy, even though she broke up with Jerry in the first scene, tired of his shady ways. As the two travel cross-country to the do-or-die rendezvous with Jerry, Samantha and Leroy enact their own little Stockholm Syndrome, bonding like Siamese twins; Leroy counsels Samantha on her rocky relationship with Jerry while she works him through his own romantic doldrums. While this is going on, Jerry and the gun change hands more times than a set of jumper cables at a Kentucky wedding.
Wyman’s script is energetic and jocular, and Gore Verbinski keeps the action chugging along, but The Mexican is ultimately too clever by half.
By the time the dreaded Margulies puts in his appearance, the film has yanked the rug out just a few times too many, and the actor playing Margulies is the last straw. It’s a respected veteran making an uncredited appearance, and as pleasant as it is to see the old pro, it’s one more surprise, a gratuitous one at that, in a film that has already had more of them than logic and good drama can support.
Early in the film, Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt have a great breakup scene, when sparks fly like ricocheting bullets, and their comic rapport is wonderful—they even look funny together in a way that, say, Roberts and Richard Gere never do. But then Wyman and Verbinski make the baffling mistake of keeping them literally in different countries for most of the rest of the film. Certainly James Gandolfini is no slouch, and his scenes with Roberts are good, but the star combo here is supposed to be Roberts and Pitt. Not to see them sharing the screen feels like a cheat, like Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks taking separate halves of Sleepless in Seattle, or Pacino and De Niro having only one scene together in Heat.
So, to get back to that running question, “When is enough enough?” In The Mexican it happens after about an hour and 45 minutes. We don’t get enough of Roberts and Pitt together, but we get too much of everything else.