. "The Mexican"

Is this a mystery adventure about a legendary pistol crafted by a master gunsmith in Mexico a century ago? Is this gangster movie in which mobsters will stop at nothing, including murder, to obtain that rare prize for a reason that seems mysteriously to be withheld from the audience until the last act? Is this a vehicle for the two top box office draws, Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt? Or, is this a romp with the pair that seems to spend the most time together, Julia Roberts and James Gandolfini?

Of course, it's all of those things... but being all those things has its drawbacks. It also has redeeming qualities and moments of real amusement.

Jerry and Samantha (Pitt and Roberts) are having some intense problems in their relationship, though the love they feel for each other is deep and apparent. Samantha, however, can't take the last straw when Pitt is forced by his mob boss Nayman (Bob Balaban) to take on the quest of "The Mexican", a valuable pistol now in the possession of Beck (David Krumholtz), no other than his beloved grandson. He's to find Beck in a small unsafe bar in a small dangerous village in Mexico. In any case, Samantha has her own agenda and it doesn't include a boyfriend she can't take any longer. She takes off to Las Vegas for a new life.

Jerry gets the pistol, loses Beck to a wild bullet fired into the air, loses the pistol, retrieves the pistol and this goes on for all the kilometers of space and footage a movie allows. Bad guys are good guys and back again and no one knows which when Leroy (Gandolfini), a fierce professional hit man, rescues Samantha (who is now the "insurance" for the safe return of the pistol) from the sure death at the hands of a competing hit man (Sherman Augustus) sent out by the mob. We don't know the lines of loyalty here, but Leroy clearly is holding Samantha against her wishes while they pursue Jerry.

But this is not to prevent a bit of homosexual attraction between Leroy and a pickup -- one that was going to lead to a serious relationship until the pickup meets an untimely end. And, it doesn't prevent a considerable amount of philosophizing on the peculiarities of relationships and love. Leroy opens Samantha's eyes on a number of scores, and in the process, learns to love and respect her like a big brother. The pair bonds in a way any film couple would be glad to achieve: with the comedic enjoyment and emotional sympathies of the audience. Not a bad reason to see this film.

But, as indicated, it's a mixed up picture, not sure exactly what it wants to be. As great as it is in some respects, it's a botch job in others. Pitt is amusing, too, but not involving. The sudden appearance of Gene Hackman as Margoles in the last act does little to paste it all together. It's an adventure, but between elements that are forced apart.

Or, that's what I think is lacking. Maybe it's something else.

One of its sterling virtues is in crafting a role perfectly suited to Julia Robert's gifts: a personality that makes all your troubles go away and that smile that sinks ships. Gandolfini, the chemical agent that makes a runaway success of "The Sopranos" on HBO, is no less well suited to the character here, calling for his trademark touch in balancing toughness, sympathy and comedy.

And, lest I convey the impression that Pitt was bad by omitting any reference to his performance which, after all, comprises a good part of this adventure: he was better than he's been in a lot less suitable roles he's taken these last few years. Perhaps it's a matter of not taking himself too seriously -- not trying to prove he's as accomplished as Olivier or as versatile as Willis nor, for that matter, that he's worthy of his outsized popularity.

Rated L, for Laughable.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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