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by: James Berardinelli

For roughly 90 minutes of its 2-hour running time, The Mexican is a moderately enjoyable, albeit feather-light, form of entertainment. Then, as the result of one ill-conceived scene around the three-quarters mark, the film goes as flat as a pancake. Nothing - not even an uncredited cameo appearance by a respected and well-known actor - can save The Mexican's turgid, disappointing conclusion, which has the unfortunate effect of muting many of the good things that came before it.

Jerry Welbach (Brad Pitt) is one of the most inept criminals to walk the face of the Earth. His most common method of surviving his illegal escapades is to "Forrest Gump his way" through them. For Jerry's latest (and supposedly last) job, he is sent to Mexico to retrieve a rare pistol for a powerful crime lord. His girlfriend, Samantha (Julia Roberts), is deeply displeased with his penchant for crime, so she breaks up with him and heads for Las Vegas while he's on his way south of the border. Once there, he messes everything up. Not only does he lose the pistol, but his rental car is stolen and his replacement means of transportation, a donkey, runs away from him. Meanwhile, in Vegas, a sensitive hitman named Leroy (James Gandolfini) kidnaps Samantha as a means to insure that Jerry will actually deliver the goods as agreed. However, instead of remaining distanced from his potential victim, Leroy becomes friendly with Samantha, and, together, they begin to work through some of his "issues."

The Mexican comes with an overload of star wattage. This is the first pairing of sex symbols Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, and the two are better apart than together. Pitt, who plays a likable goofball with an affinity for Murphy's Law-inspired circumstances, is more interesting when he's on his own stumbling around in Mexico than when he's sharing the screen with Roberts. For her part, she displays far more chemistry with James Gandolfini (in a platonic relationship) than with Pitt. In fact, these two big stars fail to connect on any meaningful level. The script wants us to believe that Jerry and Samantha are star-crossed lovers; the actors fail to convey the depth of passion and attraction we need to believe that.

The most interesting performance is delivered by Gandolfini. Several years ago, he was a hard-working character actor with a recognizable face (if not necessarily a well-known name). That was pre-"Sopranos". Now, Gandolfini commands a lot more respect (not to mention a higher fee), and, for those who have never seen the HBO series, The Mexican represents a lesson in why. Entire sequences of this movie work exclusively because of him. He carries the movie's mid-section on his broad shoulders - at times, Roberts and Pitt seem to be along for a ride. His homosexual hit man character, Leroy, isn't all that different from Tony Soprano (except for the sexual orientation), and, for fans of "The Sopranos", it will cause a sense of déjà vu.

The Mexican's plot has a tendency to wander, but director Gore Verbinski finds the right balance for both pace (things move at a reasonable clip with just enough character development thrown in) and tone (light and jokey, but not too jokey) for the film's first three-quarters. Unfortunately, the movie runs out of gas while there's still a reel-and-a-half remaining. The final 30 minutes of The Mexican aren't nearly as enjoyable as the first 90 minutes. The result is akin to a well-constructed joke with a bad punch line. Ultimately, The Mexican fails to satisfy on a fundamental level. We are set up to expect more than it ultimately delivers.

Perhaps the most telling indication that there's something wrong with The Mexican can be found in its release date. Movies starring the likes of Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are typically accorded a prime summer or Christmas slot, not a throw-away date in early March. It doe


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