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Film Review: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Mel Gibson is a man of habitual high and lows, whether he’s actor, director or producer; this regularly results in violent physical spectacles like Lethal Weapon (1987), Braveheart (1995), Passion of the Christ (2004) and Apocalypto (2006). Early on in his acting career, his symbolic role in Mad Max (1979) was established, as a loner with little to lose, a great deal of charisma and who might be going insane. Before seeing How I Spent My Summer Vacation, it looked, from the trailers and previews, like a straightforward crime film. So going in, I was hoping for some classic off the rails Mel Gibson.

A veteran criminal (Mel Gibson) is arrested and sent to a tough Mexican prison, where criminals rule the place. With the aid of a 10-year-old boy, he quickly adjusts to the new surroundings and they attempt to help each other survive. Little is definitively known about Gibson’s character (including his name, he’s credited as “Driver”), apart from what the audience sees. Unsurprisingly he plays another charismatic and indifferent guy, who’s stuck in a strange land. The driver narrates the film, so that allows him to share information to whoever is watching, at the same time that he learns it. He’s generally quite likeable, which might’ve been helped by Gibson’s job as co-writer, however it’s not all good for him; during the film he sure does run funny and he does runs frequently.

“El Pueblito” is the film’s prison, though it’s more of a shantytown filled by Mexican stereotypes and familiar criminal character archetypes. At times it almost seems like its own distinct character; it’s busy, has it’s own community and nobody should be trusted. Nearly anything is supposed to be possible there, apart from escape. For Gibson’s driver to adapt to the prison, he is forced to bond with a kid living there, who also has no name. Their relationship worried me in the beginning, but despite the kid being onscreen and talking often, he manages to not annoy too much.

From the little I had seen previously, I assumed the film would have mostly just been packed with action. This idea was helped by the opening car chase; yet I was then surprised, and glad, to see that its chief focus was more on the driver working out the place and making his way up, which holds your interest throughout. It still has aspects of hard-boiled ultra-masculine action, though at times it can seem awkward when the driver’s comical and cynical narration is followed by graphic displays of violence. Overall it’s an enjoyable romp where some old school Mel Gibson shines through and, regardless of how his career has gone recently, that’s a good thing.

- Jon Bartholomew

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