The Mexican

on March 02, 2001 by Wade Major
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   To watch "The Mexican" is to be astonished that it took so long to get Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts to make a movie together. Despite the fact that they spend more than three-quarters of the film apart, the complementary cuteness and accomplished comedic skills of the two stars generate a rare kind of screen chemistry that easily lives up to expectations.

   There's a decidedly "Midnight Run" quality to "The Mexican" in the way that it blurs the line between action road film and comedy, in this case adding a welcome dash of romance that should help the picture nail down just about every possible blockbuster demographic not already guaranteed by its superstar leads.

   The story centers on the turbulent relationship of Jerry and Samantha, whose love for each other is so volatile that they can't help bickering like an old married couple, even though they're neither old nor married. Most of the problems stem from Jerry's chronic ineptitude and his ongoing inability to disentangle himself from obligations to certain local crime figures. And that interferes with Samantha's plans to have them start a new life in Las Vegas--a change that won't happen as long as Jerry is playing errand boy to the racketeers. When Jerry agrees to do one final job, Sam flat-out snaps and hightails it to Vegas, leaving Jerry very much alone as he heads for Mexico to recover a priceless antique pistol known as The Mexican.

   Naturally, Jerry bungles the whole thing, losing the pistol and somehow managing to strand himself in the most hostile part of Mexico without transportation, money or identification. Samantha, meanwhile, falls victim to swirling underworld interest in the pistol when she is kidnapped by a strangely sensitive hit man named Leroy (James Gandolfini) as insurance to get both Jerry and the gun safely back on the right side of the border.

   Thanks to J.H. Wyman's twisty, witty original screenplay, Pitt and Roberts have plenty to work with, especially during the prolonged nearly 90-minute section of the film when they're apart. Thanks to the strength of the Wyman's writing and the fortitude of Roberts' and Pitt's personalities, the film never lags as it bounces from one story to the other. The two stars are perfectly balanced and keep the film tense, funny and buoyant throughout. Highest praise must also go to "The Sopranos" star James Gandolfini whose own offbeat chemistry with Roberts yields many of the film's funniest and most endearing moments, and to newcomer Sherman Augustus whose few but effective minutes as a mysterious, menacing rival hit man amp up several of the grittier scenes.

   Not to be overlooked are the contributions of director Gore Verbinski and composer Alan Silvestri who lend their own endearing flourishes as well. "Rashomon"-like flashbacks detailing the pistol's cursed history are filmed in the style of Mexican silent movies, while Silvestri's score pairs Pitt with a recurring character theme so apt to Jerry's ineptitude that it becomes a kind of running gag in and of itself. Starring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini, Bob Balaban and Sherman Augustus. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by J.H. Wyman. Produced by Lawrence Bender and John Baldecchi. A DreamWorks release. Action/Romantic comedy/Drama. Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 123 min

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