Previously known as Get The Gringo, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is Mel Gibson’s big comeback film; it’s an action, comedy, prison, buddy movie with drama, romance, tension, gangsters, foreigners, and Mel Gibson; and is not only a great film, but proof that Mel belongs on the big screen.
Starring as an unnamed criminal (listed simply as Driver), Braveheart‘s Mel Gibson is the clever, and charismatic, opportunist who ends up locked away in a Mexican prison after stealing a large amount of cash and making an ill-fated getaway that ended with him crashing his getaway car over the Mexican border, a bunch of corrupt cops stealing his ill-gotten gains, and him spending the foreseeable future in what he describes as “the worst place on Earth.”
When he arrives inside, Mel obviously tries to acclimatise ham self to his new surroundings; a prison unlike any in the US, where the prisoners are only outnumbered by the human rights violations of their new home, drugs, clothes, and fried chicken can be purchased as if you’re in “the world’s shittiest mall”, and prisoners not only rent their cells/shacks from the inmate in charge, but find that they can bring their families in to live with them, and that the rich and powerful prisoners not only run the joint, but can even come and go if there happens to be a football game they want to watch.
Always looking for a way to get out, get his money back, and get away scott-free, Mel tries to raise his standing inside the prison, and builds a friendship with a young boy and his mother; a relationship which proves both fruitful and troublesome, when he realises the pair have their own reasons for being inside, and wanting to see the head inmate wind up six feet under.
It’s a difficult film to describe, and one that’s even harder to properly talk up, because How I Spent My Summer Vacation doesn’t fit into any easily labelled genre; sure it’s an action movie, but it’s also a black comedy, it’s also a fairly dark thriller, a drama, a romance (of sorts), a buddy movie, a revenge tale, a crime flick, a prison movie, and an escape film; but the one thing you can say about How I Spent My Summer Vacation, is that’s it’s a Mel Gibson movie through-and-through, and that Mel is simply fantastic.
Forget the recent trouble the star’s had (things like that shouldn’t affect a career in the first place), and his last few movies (The Beaver gave a strong performance but went largely unnoticed, and Edge of Darkness was good but largely forgettable), because How I Spent My Summer Vacation is the best thing Mel Gibson has done for years; he’s charismatic, enigmatic, and a totally believable rogue whether he’s charming the pants of someone or threatening to kill them, he’s the loveable rogue you can’t help but like, has a believable mean streak, makes the action look easy, and is a star, playing a character, you can’t help but be drawn to, and want more of.
And for a cast of unknowns, How I Spent My Summer Vacation has an unusually high level of acting quality; the film basically hinges on the relationship between Gibson’s character and The Kid, but Kevin Hernandez (The Sitter’s Rodrigo) is a simply fantastic young actor who can’t be faulted in his bravado, and remains solid in delivering his cockiness, and tricky emotional moments, while supporting villains remain suitably dodgy and unlikable (including everyone from Armageddon’s Peter Stormare, Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris, Shawshank’s Bob Gunton, and Inside Man’s Peter Gerety); and it’s thanks to the brilliant casting (evident in even the tinniest of roles), and set design that How I Spent My Summer Vacation maintains not only its appeal, but it’s realism.
Being a low budget film (it was largely self-financed by Gibson) you’d expect shortcuts to be taken in some areas, but it’s nigh-on impossible to find any; not only are the production values exceptionally high (you’d be hard pushed to find better set design anywhere; as the sheer scale, and degradation, of the prison is immense; the action is great, the effects look as good as any $100m movie, and the costumes are perfectly fitting), but the script is marvelous (being concise, perfectly paced, and littered with wonderful, quotable, dialogue); and it’s clear that this was a labour of love for not only Mel, but his crew, and first time director Adrian Grunberg, who served as Mel’s assistant director on Apocalypto and has done a great job in crafting Get The Gringo, into a movie that deserves a true cult status.
So, while it may be impossible to pigeonhole, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is amazing; it’s one of those films you want to watch again the second it finishes; because it’s not only a fun, different, enjoyable piece of cinema that movie fans and casual viewers will love alike, but it smacks of quality, has a great story, an interesting new setting, and a star that deserves… No. Needs, to be back on the big screen. How I Spent My Summer Vacation isn’t just Mel Gibson’s comeback movie, it’s a must-see adventure you’re guaranteed to enjoy, and proof that there’s life in the old dog yet.
Flying further into the face of the low budget norms, How I Spent My Summer Vacation’s Blu-ray transfer (a 2.40:1, 1080p, transfer) is surprisingly strong; overall the picture is surprisingly sharp, brings a huge level of fine detail, suitably popping colours thanks to excellent contrast, and a slightly (intentionally) warm image accenting the tanned skintones on display, and coupled with deep blacks, this an all-round excellent transfer.
There are one or two minor errors present here and there (a spot of aliasing pops up now and then), and a few shots that are a little softer than probably intended, but you’d have to be really looking for them to even notice them, and so shouldn’t be distracted by a few negligible imperfections that barely even hinder an otherwise excellent visual presentation.
Again maintaining the quality of How I Spent My Summer Vacation’s Blu-ray release, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack awarded to the release is immersive, well balanced, excellently leveled, contains weighty and appropriate bass when needed, great directionality, placement, and a great level of clarity that ensures every nuance in the soundfield is clear, and never gets lost; as is the case with the always intelligible dialogue; creating a solid mix that will more than please fans of the film.
While it may look like slim pickings on first glance (especially when you see the limited runtime of each featurette), the special features included on the Blu-ray release of How I Spent My Summer Vacation are at least all worthy inclusions, and consist of a Making Of style feature (providing interviews with members of the cast and crew, on-set footage, and an interesting tale of how the film came about, how locations came to be used, and more), and three shorter featurettes exploring more specific set-pieces (the car, chase, the shootout, and the raid), which do look a little thin on the ground, and leave you wanting more, but still provide a few neat little nuggets of information, and actually enhance fans enjoyment of the film.
The Bottom Line:
Sure he’s had his personal troubles, but how can you not like Mel Gibson? A guy that’s been shunned by Hollywood, gone back to basics, and self-financed a brilliant piece of escapism that has something for everyone, should be seen by everyone, would be enjoyed by everyone, but unfortunately won’t get nearly the amount of attention it deserves.
Coming to Blu-ray with solid picture and audio quality, and a selection of special features that while slim, are all worthwhile, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is the surprise direct-to-disc hit you never thought it would be; with a fantastic performance from Gibson (starring as another incarnation of the anti-hero he’s played so well in the past), solid supporting actors, amazing set design, solid direction, and a script that provides a hugely fun ride, and brings Mel back to his best, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is the blind buy of the year; a movie that really should have had a theatrical run, an action/thriller with great black comedy elements and some funny buddy dialogue, it’s proof that Mel Gibson belongs on the big screen, and that Hollywood really should invite him back to the party. So, go on, Get The Gringo!