8:53am Monday 14th May 2012
By Damon Smith
HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION (15, 96 mins) *** Starring Mel Gibson, Kevin Hernandez, Dolores Heredia, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Peter Stormare. Director: Adrian Grunberg.
Punch & Judy, donkey rides, sandcastles and candy floss are in short supply in this darkly comic thriller.
This isn’t how you spent your summer holiday, or indeed would want to: banged up in a Mexican jail, fighting for your life against the drug-riddled dregs of society.
A disconcertingly jaunty title epitomises the curious mood swings of the film, as the tone careens from graphic violence to black comedy via a tense game of cat-and-mouse in the crowded inner sanctum of the jail.
Gibson embraces the twisted humour. We first glimpse his veteran thief known as Driver behind the wheel of his getaway car dressed as a clown, an accomplice coughing up blood in slow motion in the back seat.
Nearby are two bags containing millions of dollars pilfered from mobster Frank (Stormare).
With the police in hot pursuit, Driver elects to crash on the Mexican side of the border, where the local cops pocket the cash and throw their only living suspect into El Pueblito prison – a petri dish of festering human life.
A tender bond develops between Driver, a ten-year-old urchin (Hernandez) and the boy’s ballsy mother (Heredia).
It transpires the tyke has the same rare blood type as cartel boss Javi (Cacho), who runs operations inside the prison, and is therefore a viable liver donor.
Needless to say, Driver isn’t thrilled about anyone removing organs from his pint-sized sidekick.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation has its moments, including some uproarious one-liners and a breathless adrenaline-fuelled shootout.
The fractious relationship between Driver and the boy provides a hook for the energetic set pieces.
Gibson puts aside off-screen personal traumas to play his grizzled gringo with roguish charm.
We’re almost won over.
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