Driver (Mel Gibson), a career criminal crashes through the border between the US and Mexico while on the run from the police. He is sent to El Pueblito, a tough Tijuana prison, where he makes friends with a 10 year old boy in order to survive.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation is an oddly named movie, and the title change from or to (depending on where you read your movie news) Get The Gringo, is even stranger. The movie is darkly comic, often violent and set in a prison that runs itself like a small town.
Mel Gibson may finally have found his perfect comeback film in How I Spent My Summer Vacation. The Beaver was a little on the odd side to play well and widely but HISMSV hits a tone that Gibson is comfortable with. The movie plays a little like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and just as Robert Downey Jr found his stride in a movie about a man struggling to find his feet in a new world, Gibson appears to be doing the same. Gibson still has the energy and timing to carry the movie, and his growly voiceovers are nicely comic. The character is one that Gibson knows he can do justice to – he co-wrote the film after all – a deeply flawed man who knows which battles to choose and how to redeem himself. It is nearly impossible to forget the revelations in Gibson’s personal life, but this movie certainly makes sure that these thought are not at the front of the audience’s mind.
Kevin Hernandez plays the kid who strikes up a friendship with Driver. The 10 year old is not an inmate, but due to the prisons strange policies, he may live with his mother, as he is underage. Hernandez was last seen in the very misguided Jonah Hill movie The Sitter, and while he plays a similar character, there is something relatable and real about this kid, as opposed to the obnoxious trouble machine he was in previous movies. The relationship between the kid and Driver is actually rather sweet and each becomes the perfect sidekick for the other. Peter Stormare turns up in his second movie role in recent weeks. He spends enough time on screen for us to remember what a legend he really is, then vanishes.
The story of HISMSV plays a little like a grubby version of Oceans 11; Driver plans an elaborate heist in order to get what he wants, but instead of just walking away like Clooney et al, he manages to kill almost everyone he comes into contact with. Fair enough. There is also a rather odd subplot involving a liver transplant, but somehow that works in favour of the film and gives each of the cast a little more motivation. El Pueblito acts as a character in itself in the film, based on Tijuana’s famous La Mesa prison, this is more like a small city than anything else. The prison is made up of streets and alleys, which are lined with shops and cafes. A gang controls the ‘real estate’ (ie: bunks) and everyone within El Pueblito’s walls.
First time director Adrian Grunberg – who was first assistant director on previous Mel Gibson films – paces the film well, mixes action and quiet, layers the dark comedy and does not rely on special effects to tell the story. Grunberg pulls of the film with vigour and solid visuals, and tells the story of Driver’s incarceration in an efficient and entertaining manner.
In all, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is not the film that we may expect it to be; it is a heist and a prison break set in a larger than life prison village. Gibson may not emerge as the hero of the piece, but he most certainly is not the villain either. The film is entertaining and fun, cheesy, bold and somehow memorable. Also, Mel Gibson’s run is unintentionally hilarious.