Once Mel Gibson was Hollywood royalty. These days after his self-inflicted meltdown, the actor, director, and producer is almost persona non grata on Hollywood sets – which is a pity because How I Spent My Summer Vacation (a.k.a. Get the Gringo) deserves far more than a straight-to-download release in the US.
In How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Mel Gibson goes back to the basics, starring as a nameless anti-hero whose devil-may-care attitude is matched only by his criminal wit, survival instincts, and a curiously soft spot for widows and orphans.
The man with no name (but officially "The Driver" if you stick around for the credits) lands himself in a Mexican prison as a result of a heist gone wrong in the opening seconds of this film. But El Pueblito is not just any prison – it's literally run by its inmates. Its approach to crime and punishment? Since you're doing the time for your crime, you're allowed to do pretty much anything you want if you have the dough. You could get more comfortable living quarters or even your own penthouse apartment complete with jacuzzi, for instance. Or you could run your own crime empire from the safe confines of the prison, far away from any violent gang wars and reprisals. Or if you're a family man, you could move your wife and kids in to live with you.
But let's say you're a foreigner in this prison, like the character Mel Gibson plays. Your life expectancy would be very short indeed – especially when the people in the prison don't like you and your former compatriots outside the prison want you dead. But it's Mel Gibson we're talking about, and this is a spaghetti western meets prison drama you're watching. Of course the Man With No Name would figure out how the prison is run, who runs it, get cosy with the chief mobster who runs the prison, and get both teams of baddies to wipe each other out – while taking care of some hardened orphan boy and his widowed mum, both of whom have seen bad times and are destined to see even harder times.
The carnage and mayhem, the crude wit and double crosses that unfold in How I Spent My Summer Vacation are par for the course given the film's spaghetti western roots and the debt it owes to both Eastwood's Dollars trilogy and Kurosawa's Yojimbo. What Gibson brings to this venture is a fine balance of darkly comic and dramatic sensibilities, often seen in the Coen brothers and Tarantino, that make the world of the western (and the modern western) so terrifying and fun in its absurd savagery.