Release date: September 24th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 95 minutes
Director: Adrian Grunberg
Writers: Mel Gibson, Stacy Perskie, Adrian Grunberg
Cast: Mel Gibson, Kevin Hernandez
“Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.” It’s a popular saying that originated some time between the 1960s and 70s and it remains true even to this day. People can be driven to a life a crime for any number of reasons ranging from personal, financial, political to who knows what else… but other than the moral implications of their actions, there are also the legal ones to consider.
Despite all the planning and best intentions, not everyone gets away and sooner or later the law can catch up with you and there aren’t that many places on Earth worst than a Mexican prison for those who do get caught.
In this latest Mel Gibson offering we see him back in action playing a nameless career criminal, referred to only as “Driver”, on the run after a robbery, but less than five minutes into the film he’s caught by Mexican authorities and sent to a prison unlike any he’s probably seen in America. It’s a place where the inmates carry guns and the guards play mariachi music without end.
The phrase “doing hard time” comes to mean something else here as he discovers cells where elite criminals do drugs, gamble and have women at their service while the lower criminals struggle to stay alive. In short, it’s a place run by thugs but as the only ‘gringo’ (white man) in the prison town known as “El Pueblito,” Driver has a really hard time at first, but soon learns to roll with the many punches and stay out of the thugs’ way with a bit of assault, arson and theft along the way.
He also meets a tough talking ten-year-old (Kevin Hernandez) who’s got his eye on big-time crook Javi (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and his brother Caracas (Jesús Ochoa). The kid wants revenge on the man who killed his father and he’s got Javi marked for a toe tag, however, he has a rare blood type which makes him a target when it’s revealed one of the crime bosses in the same prison needs a liver.
This then sets us up nicely for a prison break using some familiar movie tropes such as the Double-Cross and the Escape.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation places Gibson back in action where we loved him films like the Lethal Weapon series but his character is much grittier but with the same unhinged quality we saw in Paycheck (2003). The action, when it occurs, is fast paced and there are some violent scenes involving torture and attempted rape, but all in all it’s really the dialogue and chemistry between Gibson and the young actor, Kevin Hernandez, that moves the film along.
There’s also the kid’s mom (Dolores Heredia). She’s doing her best to keep her son out of trouble, but given the environment they’re trapped in, this is no easy task for anyone. Heredia holds her own with Gibson onscreen and in one scene we see her subjected to electro-shock torture which seems to have become a trope in Gibson films.
In spite of the action and the star attraction of Gibson, I found How I Spent My Summer Vacation lacking. Its story isn’t all that thrilling, nor is its resolution, and for the most part it’s a run-of-the-mill slow burning action thriller that doesn’t leave much in the way of surprises. Still, it does give us some insight into one of the world’s worst prisons with El Pueblito being based on a real facility set up by the Mexican government to offer inmates a more humane method of doing time, but quickly turned sour.
Shot down a decade ago, its conditions were recreated for How I Spent My Summer Vacation and despite the film not living up to its full potential it does remind us that crime can cost you more than time.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .