By Dominic Antill

Mel Gibson characters as of late tend to appear wary and tired of all the explosions and bullets coming his way. Ever the begrudging hero, there are few others that can pull off the cynical ‘am I really doing this again?’ routine much better. With that, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, despite its rather anaemic title, fits very easily into the watchable category.  

Adrian Grunberg directs here for the first time but hasn’t strayed too far having worked on films following a similar vein in Man on Fire (2004) and a whole host of Mexican based film.

The opening scene provides a thrill at the prospect of a Riggs-esque character (Gibson in Lethal Weapon) having grown older and perhaps finally going mental, in a frantic car chase across the US/Mexican border dressed as a clown. The sardonic Mel Gibson ‘I’ve been here before’ narration sets the tone: “there’s nothing worse than a sad clown, unless it’s a clown bleeding internally and coughing it all over your money.”

That particular voice-over was not the only one however and there is perhaps a little too much of the grumpy old man interjections than are necessary. Sadly there is also the annoying issue of putting a witty, intelligent, bilingual 10 year old at the heart story – why a child can’t just be a child anymore is mystifying. That aside Kevin Hernandez (‘the kid’) does a good job at playing a fatherless child brought up in a Mexican prison and there is a pretty reasonable chemistry between him and Gibson.

If you were to take that plot line away generally speaking it has the feel of Payback (1991) where Gibson plays a conman, crook with a philanthropic streak, kind of like Robin Hood except he’ll steal from anybody.

That said, perhaps similar to the actor himself, you can choose to like him in that lovable rogue way or go through the film hoping the situation goes from bad to worse, either way Driver (Gibson) doesn’t care.

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Driver ends up in the debauched and largely un-policed world of a high security Mexican prison because he steals a large sum of cash from an American drug dealer Peter Storemare (Frank). After the initial car chase he ends up on the Mexican side of the border – the border police are typically corrupt and after noting that Driver has two-odd million in the trunk decide to send him to the can and spend his money for him.

The world of the over-congested, hub of illegality where prisoners are left to their own devices, with everything from designated crack houses to high-class gambling evenings on offer, is as good a location as any for Gibson to enjoy himself. “Is this a prison or the world’s shittiest mall?,” he asks at one point.

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From that point it is all about Driver playing the system, getting in-between the bad guys and playing them against each other whilst trying to save Hernandez and his mother.

This is very safe ground for Gibson but there is enough gently cynical humour to reinforce that this film doesn’t take itself too seriously.

If you are a fan of the thought of a beleaguered Gibson aggrieved to be trudging through the action with 1990s guitar riffs in tow and comic nonchalant undertones then join Driver on his vacation, you’ll probably enjoy the trip.

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