How I Spent My Summer Vacation isn’t a such a bad trip after all
Given the misfortune Mel Gibson has brought upon himself over the past few years, it’s easy to forget that his cinematic track record isn’t half bad. So while How I Spent My Summer Vacation may have been denied a cinematic release Stateside (as Get the Gringo, a more apt title), it shouldn’t come as much surprise that it’s a decent action flick. Of course, how enjoyable it actually is will depend on how well the viewer gets past the fact of Gibson’s in-your-face presence here.
It’s not that Gibson is bad in the role. On the contrary, he does a convincing job as a mysteriously nameless thief (credited only as Driver- easy there, Gosling lovers) caught in a botched job that lands him in a vast, cut-throat Mexican prison community. Gibson, having co-written the script, has made a good call in not casting himself as any kind of straight up hero- those days are long gone. As a duplicitous thug, Gibson still maintains enough charisma to make it work, even if having the man himself as the protagonist doesn’t sit quite right, anti-hero or not. Thankfully, there’s enough action to distract from thoughts of how awful a person Gibson may well be. None of How I Spent My Summer Vacation paints an especially favourable view of Mexican law enforcement, but the Yanks aren’t exactly beacons of justice either. In fact, all the supporting characters have dirty hands of some sort (and are played by mostly unrecognisable faces, as Gibson’s days of working with established, marketable co-stars are also a thing of the past). Genuine likability isn’t exactly a theme of How I Spent My Summer Vacation at any level.
Yet, a strong narrative fuelled by shoot-outs and double-crossing makes How I Spent My Summer Vacation nothing less than easily watchable. Gibson collaborator Adrian Grunberg makes an assured transition from assistant director to calling the shots, though it wouldn’t come as a shock if it turned out Gibson wielded as much(if not more) power onset. Kevin Hernandez gives a strong showing as Gibson’s 10 year-old co-conspirator in the inside, while Dolores Heredia puts a fierce foot forward as the boy’s tough-as-nails mother. While nothing particularly ground-breaking unfolds, How I Spent My Summer Vacation does a good job of injecting some dark humour into the grim storyline. At times, the script is clever than would be expected, even if the “outside” targets are entirely underdeveloped as both characters and subplots. The action sequences are solid, though unspectacular, and the brisk pace prevents the dumber aspects from sinking in too deep. All told, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is a decent, well-made action movie. It’s just a shame about Gibson’s big mouth.
As a film, How I Spent My Summer Vacation deserves a better fate than it has already received in the US and will likely receive elsewhere. Fans of this type of guns-ablaze fare could certainly do much worse than this. Still, it’s hard to shake the unease that comes along with enjoying a Mel Gibson film these days and that’s unfortunate for everyone else involved here. Gibson has shown that he can put together a good film, so at this point, his best bet may be to retreat behind the camera and leave the leading man roles to new talent deserving of a decent break. Gibson may now be box office poison on-screen, but there’s no reason why he can’t rebuild his professional image through his filmmaking expertise and How I Spent My Summer Vacation is a great example that the disgraced star still has something to offer. 7.5/10
How I Spent My Summer Vacation opens in the UK 11 May