Movie review: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I have a soft spot for Mel Gibson.

This is despite the public- relation debacles he has been embroiled in over the years - from alleged domestic violence to racism - that have adversely affected his reputation and Hollywood career.

In his defence, I'd say that he still impressed with his intense acting on his last two movies, Edge Of Darkness (2010) and The Beaver (2011).

Forget about the cameo on The Hangover 2 that he lost out on, due to disapproval from some members of that film's cast and crew. He now returns with How I Spent My Summer Vacation, which has been released under the title Get The Gringo on video-on-demand services in the United States.

If you're a fan of Gibson's Lethal Weapon films, you'll immediately recognise the daredevil tough-guy type that made him a star. This time round, he is a professional criminal - so hard-core that he possesses neither identification nor fingerprints.

The character is simply known as "Driver" in the credits because he is seen during the film's outset driving a getaway car across the border to crash on Mexican soil. There, he is arrested by corrupt cops, who promptly confiscate the millions he had earlier stolen from a mobster (Peter Stormare).

He is thrown into the El Pueblito prison, which turns out to be more like a sleazy ghetto filled with prostitutes, tattooists and loud mariachi music.

As Driver soon finds out, this prison is ruled by corrupt officials, as well as a powerful inmate, Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), and his henchmen.

Usually, I would say "no" to excessive narration, but voiceovers by Driver provide wry observations and offbeat humour as he susses his way through the prison system.

Directed by Adrian Grunberg (Gibson's assistant director on Apocalypto) from a script co-written by Gibson, Grunberg and Stacy Perskie, Summer Vacation is a blast from start to finish, filled with gritty action and surprises at every turn.

Perhaps Gibson is trying to project a positive persona onscreen - something he can't seem to achieve in real life. His character is certainly a likeable one, blessed with quick wit, bravado and a big heart.

In particular, Driver shows his tender side by warming up to two fellow prisoners, a worldly-wise 10-year-old boy (Kevin Hernandez) and his doting mother (Dolores Heredia). The complication is that the boy shares a rare blood type with Javi, who covets his liver for a much-needed transplant.

It's up to Driver to rescue mother and son, while sorting out his own predicament, with various enemies breathing down his neck. This, Gibson pulls off brilliantly in a role that seems tailor-made for him.

A comeback for Gibson? I can only hope so. But this film is enjoyable, no matter what you think of the actor and the controversies surrounding him in the real world.

HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION (M18)
Action/96 minutes
Rating: 3.5/5


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