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'Mexican, The'

No, actually Tony Soprano just about steals the movie as a hit man in 'The Mexican'

Friday, March 02, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"The Mexican" pairs Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, whose combined star power could go a long way to ending California's energy crisis. But the joke's on us -- they spend very little time together on screen. The movie takes them on separate paths -- him to Mexico in search of a fabled pistol, her to Vegas with uninvited company.

'The Mexican'

RATING: R for violence and language.

STARRING: Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini.

DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski.




So what's the punch line? At the end of what feels like a very long day, neither Pitt nor Roberts matters as much as the movie's third wheel, James Gandolfini.

Our pal Tony Soprano finds himself in familiar territory. He plays a hit man known as Leroy who has been hired by the same bunch of lowlifes that sent Pitt's character, Jerry Welbach, south of the border.

Jerry is supposed to retrieve a handcrafted firearm (it's called The Mexican, hence the film's name) belonging to the big boss, Arnold Margolese, who is about to get out of jail. But while Jerry may not be dumber than a box of hair, he does suffer from delusions of adequacy. What's more, other people have an interest in the gun, which could bring big bucks from collectors.

So Leroy intercepts Jerry's girlfriend, Samantha (Roberts), as insurance that the pistol ends up where it's supposed to. As it turns out, that's when the movie comes to life.

In the opening scenes, we discover that Sam and Jerry are two bricks shy of a regular gig as Jerry Springer panelists. Their sex life is great, but they fight over everything else. She turns everything into a confrontation about her needs, while he keeps managing to do and say the wrong thing.

Leroy, of all people, proves to be (in Sam's words) a pretty sensitive guy for a cold-blooded killer. The best part of the movie revolves around the simpatico relationship that develops between them and the very surprising twists that result.

Yeah, OK, so it may be akin to Tony Soprano using a shrink to get in touch with himself. But Gandolfini takes Leroy through the gamut of emotional responses without ever losing his credibility as a man who murders for a living, even in a comic setting.

Roberts, who makes Sam shrewish and even unattractive at the start, blossoms into a warm and likable woman with Leroy. It's just another solid blue-collar performance that proves yet again Roberts isn't just another glamorous face.

As for Pitt, the film's other pretty puss ends up playing it mostly for laughs at his own expense. Jerry is basically a harmless doofus, which means everything will go wrong just as he thinks he's done things right. His part of the movie turns into a series of farcical gags involving his pursuit of the various Mexicans who keep taking the gun from him.

Director Gore Verbinski, whose last film was the execrable "Mouse Hunt," proves less enervating with the more deliberately paced humor in "The Mexican." But he may have been too leisurely -- the movie runs two hours and feels like three, which is never a good sign.

Screenwriter J.H. Wyman gets the character scenes right, but his plotting proves almost nonsensical. When we learn why Margolese wants the pistol and where it is going, we may wonder whether Jerry's involvement was necessary at all. The subplot involving a doublecross on the part of smarmy Margolese henchman Bernie Nayman (Bob Balaban) may explain it, but makes matters too confusing.

Oh, heck, let's face it. "The Mexican" just isn't as good when Gandolfini isn't on screen -- proving again that comedy doesn't have to be pretty.

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