An American gangster finds himself trapped in an alien culture, when a robbery lands him in a bizarre Mexican prison, where the inmates are in charge.
You have to love a movie that begins with a high-speed chase that finds police vehicles pursuing a getaway car piloted by a clown. There is another whey-faced entertainer in the back seat, but he is quickly succumbing to bullet wounds. The driver sees an opportunity to cross the border and crashes into Mexico. The cops there spy the money in the backseat and opt to keep the gringos.
Turns out Bozo No. 2 has gone on to the big top in the sky. No. 1 is deposited in a prison/small town called “El Pueblito.” There, we learn his name is Johnson and he is quite resourceful. Pretty soon, he has the lay of the land and quite a few pesos in his pocket, after robbing a prison drug dealer.
The robbery sets him up with some cash and a new ally, a 10-year-old boy. He eyeballed the whole thing and offers to keep the knowledge to himself for a cigarette. Johnson opts to call him “Kid” and he learns all about “Pueblito” from the boy. He also discovers the kid is being kept alive because the head inmate, Javi, wants his kidneys. Javi is the “King Rat.” He is also the guy who killed Kid’s dad for the same organ.
Johnson is a weary criminal who appears to have accepted his rung on the ladder and settles into the rhythm of the prison. It’s all a ploy, and he soon ingratiates his way into Javi’s graces. Turns out that Javi never got his cut of the money that the cops took off of Johnson. Meanwhile, the gangster, Frank, is looking for his moolah and he has no problems sending a hit squad into “El Pueblito.” The resulting slow motion shootout is worthy of Sam Pekinpah.
Johnson turns the shootout to his advantage by convincing Javi that he can kill the mobster responsible if he is freed. Watching Johnson set up the attack is a lot of fun, as he adopts accents, disguises and the services of some low-level prostitutes to set up a false meeting between Frank and a business magnate.
The climax, however, takes you back to the jail, as Johnson proves he is not about to give up on the boy who helped him up when he was down. The climax ties everything up as Johnson sneaks back into jail and stops the kidney operation (just as the doctor is finished removing them from the boy) and still gets his hands on the rest of the money, which is sitting right under the noses of the local police.
This is great stuff and it all comes together under the smooth guidance of Mel Gibson. The press has really teed off on Mel lately, and it is nice to see him doing what he does best — making flicks. This effort feels like a sequel to “Payback.”
Johnson is definitely an assumed name and we learn that his back story is identical to that of Parker in the other film. Gibson is smart here and fills the movie with exceptional character actors like Peter Gerrety (“The Wire”) and Peter Stormare (“Fargo”). He also gets a huge boost from young Kevin Hernandez, as the Kid. Hernandez is phenomenal here and is a perfect mixture of youthful innocence and jail house swagger.
The script wraps things up in a nice bundle with plenty of cynicism, violence, reality, and even, by the end, a little heart.
“Stop bleeding on the money.”
“You gotta love murderers who recycle.”
“I am missing $4 million. You’re missing three toes. So far.”
2012, rated R.