Not to be confused with the 1997 teenie film of the same name, this is Mel Gibson’s new drama, How I Spent My Summer Vacation that for those in the know seems part like a film version of Rusty Young’s brilliantly gripping Marching Powder. It seems that Gibson – who needs a career/personality boost and is the co-writer on this film – has possibly taken some ideas from this novel about the real-life experiences of a drug dealer in a Bolivian jail run like a miniature city.
In terms of a Gibson revival after the rather odd and equally retrospective (if pretentious) The Beaver in 2011, this action film is far better placed to draw back audiences, and the actor draws on a lot of the personality traits of his previous, best-loved characters – including Riggs’s sideways shooting from the Lethal Weapon glory days.
Gibson is back in action-man form playing ‘Driver’, a career criminal who is chased by the US authorities over the US-Mexican border and crashes to a stop. Placed in a tough, tiered prison ‘city’ of haves and have-nots with its own rules, he learns to survive the harsh lifestyle with the help of a 9-year-old boy (Kevin Hernandez) who has been raised in the penal environment. Everything can be bought and bartered inside, and Driver soon realises a grim new ‘currency’ that is life-threatening.
It’s a carefully considered, tailored part written for controversial Gibson – you never really make your mind up about Driver either or know whether to like/trust him completely, but you know he needs to be given a chance to put injustices right: life imitating art, perhaps? Gibson is highly watchable mixture of harden cynic and melancholic, weary softie in this, and like his Riggs character, has a lot of baggage that this story never really needs to venture into to keep up the enigma that is ‘Driver’.
Bouncing off Gibson/Driver’s knee-jerk reactions is a rather commendable performance by young Hernandez who plays a wise-beyond-his-years and hardened kid with time running out, a far better role than his cringeworthingly racist turn as Rodrigo in flop comedy The Sitter last year. He reflects Gibson/Driver’s edgy attitude in mini form, and even though the outcome is fairly obvious and will result in an unlikely bonding, co-writer-director Adrian Grunberg’s film still has a lot of intriguing avenues it could head down as it combines action, humour and dramatics, all within one tough environment and never stagnant pace.
There is almost a stylised, Tarantino-esque expenditure to it as the body count rises, mixed with old-school Latino crime drama shootouts. Bottom line is all are ‘bad guys’ in this; the question is which ones perish or live to tell the tale, and that is what keeps things fresh and engaging. With a devilish sardonic humour running throughout, Summer Vacation always entertains in action or retort. It has a free will attitude that you can really get onboard with, as well as a sympathetic stance on the politics of the region, without being overtly condescending.
Love or loathe Gibson, he is hard to resist in this tantalizing tale of hard knocks, winners and losers, as he charms then reminds us of what made him a big screen star in the first place. It does promise a good night out at the cinema.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie