A Night in Old Mexico (2014)

20 May


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The premise for “A Night in Old Mexico” goes like this—an ex-rancher who’s lost his South Texas land to the banks is about to live in a trailer park when he, along with his visiting grandson, takes off for a fun, exciting night across the border, where he runs into a series of mishaps involving crooks, a bounty hunter, and a bag of money that winds up in his possession. If that sounds a bit old-fashioned, it was originally written by “Lonesome Dove” alum Bill Wittliff as a “Lonesome Dove” episode more than 30 years ago. Now that it’s finally made in the 2010s, I’m not sure I could tell you which parts were updated in the final draft of the script. But in the spirit of things, I don’t think I care very much.

“A Night in Old Mexico” is a gritty, well-made thriller made even better by the leading performance of Robert Duvall. Duvall has always been one of those actors who puts his all into everything he’s in and clearly has fun doing whatever he has to do. The story itself is fine and fairly timeless, but it’s Duvall who gives the movie its backbone. He turns in a strong performance as Red Bovie. He’s an ex-rancher whose South Texas spread has been set up for foreclosure, since the cattle has died and his son ran off years ago, leaving him with nothing and no one to help him. Along comes his grandson, Gally (Jeremy Irvine), whom he hasn’t met before and who shows up for a visit. He shows up the day Red is supposed to move into a tiny trailer park.

When Red and Gally show up at the trailer park, Red quickly realizes it’s not for him and hurriedly speeds away, with Gally in the front seat. They head down to Mexico for a long night of drinking and partying. Along the way, they pick up a couple of rowdy hitchhikers, who, as we saw in a prologue, have already committed murder and have taken a bag of money. Red kicks them out when they drink too much of his beer, which means they now unknowingly possess the bag.

In Mexico, Red roams the village and streets, looking for some action, with Gally reluctantly in tow. As the night continues, they befriend a down-on-her-luck singer (Angie Cepeda) but eventually realize what they’ve been holding onto and that there are people out there who want it back. And wouldn’t you know it—they happen to be nearby.

Something I really liked about “A Night in Old Mexico” was that I couldn’t predict from one situation to the next what would happen. There are many twists and turns the story takes, especially with the villains because there’s surprisingly more than the two hitchhikers. When the thriller aspects kicked in, I was curious to see where it was going, especially if this Red Bovie character was involved. He is an interesting character, and Robert Duvall does a great job at bringing him to life. He’s gruff but sensitive too. He has a heart of gold but also a knack for finding excitement and trouble. Sometimes he’s not entirely likable but you can see why he acts one way or another.

The scene that lets you know right away that Duvall still has that quality that made him a star. It’s a scene early on in which he sits alone in a barn and contemplates suicide. He talks to God while he struggles to pull the trigger on his revolver. You can see he’s a man who feels like he’s hit rock-bottom and that God has abandoned him. You can also see why he would need a good night out.

I enjoyed “A Night in Old Mexico” for what it did with its premise and for turning out a neat thrill ride. But more importantly, I enjoyed the film for Robert Duvall. Without the character and Duvall playing him, the film would’ve been merely okay. There are probably too many villains, only half of which are interesting; we don’t get to know the singer very well, except that she’s standoffish and presumably downtrodden; and come on—what did Red do for her that was different from every other guy that leers at her? Was it because of his age? Was it because he was Robert Duvall? But those are just nitpicks. I recommend “A Night in Old Mexico.”

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