A nameless criminal, dubbed Driver (Mel Gibson), finds himself in one of the world’s most reprehensible prisons after unwittingly crashing onto Mexican soil in a car loaded with $2 million of stolen cash. With prospects of a release low, Driver slowly comes to terms with his surroundings, striking up an unlikely relationship with a ten year old boy (Kevin Hernandez) hellbent on avenging his father’s death. Through any means necessary, and with the aid of his new-found friend, Driver must find a way to escape El Pueblito and find his lost wealth.
As far as films of its ilk go, How I Spent My Summer Vacation (sporting the more apt title of Get The Gringo in America) is a fairly standard, run-of-the-mill affair. Adrian Grunberg, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside Mel Gibson and Stacy Perskie, keeps things simple, with much of the action taking place in El Pueblito itself, and keeping Gibson’s Driver remaining front-and-centre. However, no matter how fast the pace or trim the running time, How I Spent My Summer Vacation can’t help but feel overpopulated and convoluted. Yes, the characters are workable and it’s easy to watch, the fact that Grunberg spends no time either establishing the characters’ backgrounds or making any of their plot strands carry real weight (with a kidney-swap sub-plot feeling particularly irksome), ensures that the film never rises above its less-than-stellar foundations.
It’s thanks, then, to other elements that How I Spent My Summer Vacation finds its feet and warrants any kind of investment. While his aptitude for storytelling clearly needs work, Grunberg displays real skill and potential through his direction. When they come, the action sequences are fast and furious and, with the aid aid of resourceful production design and and cinematography (Bernardo Trujillo and Benoît Debie, respectively) he’s able to capture the rough, filthy prison with a tremendous authenticity that enables audiences to look past the ridiculousness of the situation and truly soak up the precarious situation.
As the cryptic, yet quick-witted Driver, Gibson excels in a role that not only showcases his often misused comedic skill, but also diverts attention away from his precarious personal life and finds him doing what he does best. His sarcastic narration may tire towards the end, and the chemistry between himself as his other cast members isn’t entirely faultless, but the fact he adds measure, amusement and thrill to an otherwise clunky, unstable narrative cements his ability to perform and please in most situations. Hernandez and Daniel Giménez Cacho as El Pueblito’s criminal mastermind and kidney-seeker provide decent support, with Cacho in particular making for a solid antagonist.
It’s not exactly powerful nor veritable, but How I Spent My Summer Vacation is a perfectly serviceable slice of cheesy Gibson wit with a sprinkling of no-holds-barred action and depraved, dead-end morons caught up in increasingly ludicrous situations. Without the prison setting and the keen eye of Grunberg, it would be a laughable mess, but somehow, in a way that’s very difficult to explain and will no doubt torment us shameful souls for weeks, it works. Dammit.