Of all the megastars of the 1980s and 90s, none have seen a decline in popularity quite like Mel Gibson. A series of public relations disasters and a mixed bag of directorial and starring films, critically and commercially have seen the star of Lethal Weapon become something of a relic in modern cinema. It’s rather apt then that his latest starring role, How I Spent my Summer Vacation, a violent action film, is a throwback to a period when Gibson was still a relevant commodity.
The cryptically titled Driver (Gibson) is on the run from the police having been caught with millions of dollars in drugs money. He makes it to Mexico but is thrown into a prison that is more like a small society where money, drugs and violence, equal power. Driver must use his wits to play all the warring factions against each other and reclaim his money from corrupt officials while trying to save a young man from a life of crime and prison.
How I Spent my Summer Vacation (Get the Gringo in the US) is sees Mel Gibson back to his wise-cracking best. He is almost an older version of Riggs, but one thrust into one of the grimiest locations on Earth. The cinematography by Benoit Debie (Irreversible and Enter the Void) is wonderful and distressing in equal measure, with the Mexican prison (based on the infamous El Pueblito) portrayed, warts and all, as a truly filthy location. The audience can almost taste the dirt and corruption which gives How I Spent my Summer Vacation a memorable and stylish atmosphere.
First time director Adrian Grunberg, who has worked as an assistant director with Oliver Stone and Gibson himself, manages to create a slick and lean feature film that harks back to the golden era of action films in the late 1980s. It has Gibson’s directorial fingerprints all over it too, but for a first-time director, How I Spent my Summer Vacation will no doubt become a fantastic calling card for Grunberg and he should be applauded for his blend of witty one-liners, over-the-top action and reasonably gripping storytelling.
How I Spent my Summer Vacation is by no means perfect. The violence that permeates throughout the film appears to be done just for the sake of it. Usually in Gibson directorial pieces violence is used as a way of moving the action forward, but sadly How I Spent my Summer Vacation uses it simply to try and shock, which becomes tiresome about half way through and while Gibson is good, it is just a rehashing of his Lethal Weapon character. Still even lacking originality as it does How I Spent my Summer Vacation is still a fun, if mindless throwback to action films of old.