It’s difficult to watch any new Mel Gibson film without thinking about his very chequered recent past and with the release of his last film, The Beaver, it would appear that most people chose not to watch it all. However, with the release of his latest attempt to get back into the big time, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, regardless of what you may think of Gibson, it is still apparent that there are few actors in the world today who can carry a film as well as him.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation utilises Gibson’s charms as both an action star and a knowing, mischievous screen presence. It won’t win any prizes for originality but it’s a lean, efficient thriller that like the recent Safe, doesn’t over-reach. The majority of the film takes place in a Mexican jail where it seems that absolutely anything goes and Gibson, who’s sent inside for stealing a considerable amount of money, wastes little time in manipulating the many unsavoury inmates to his whims. The lean, nasty plot has shades of an Elmore Leonard novel as Gibson plays different groups off each other in an attempt to gain his freedom.
Despite the occasional brutality, it’s all done with a knowing wink and there’s some genuine humour, particularly when Gibson impersonates Clint Eastwood in order to gain access to a wealthy businessman. First time director Adrian Grunberg makes good use of his locations and successfully creates a grimy, sweaty atmosphere that perfectly matches the setting. It won’t get Gibson back on top, his recent behaviour has gone way too far for that, but it does serve as a decent reminder of how he got to the top in the first place.