How I Spent My Summer Vacation review

Mel Gibson's in Mad Mex mode

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If the title of Adrian Grunberg’s film makes it sound like some sub- Stand By Me coming-of-ager, the attention-hooking opening sequence will put your mind at rest.

With a boot-load of cash, and a dying partner in the backseat, Mel Gibson’s Driver is trying to outrun the U.S. Border Patrol. His answer? Smash his getaway vehicle through the dividing wall, landing him on Mexican soil, and into the waiting arms of the corrupt local police.

Said cops decide that driver needs a spell in ‘El Pueblito’, a notorious jail in Tijuana that allows families of inmates to live inside prison walls with them.

The result is a microcosm of society, or as Driver puts it: “Is this a prison or the world’s shittiest mall?” A thriving hell-hole, where prostitutes mingle with drug addicts, you can even buy your heroin from the ‘smack shack’. In time, Driver forms an uneasy alliance with a 10-year-old kid (Kevin Hernandez).

While making his directorial debut, Grunberg – Gibson’s 1st AD on Apocalypto – neatly walks the action-comedy tightrope here. Prison life is painted in evocative colours, while Gibson’s voiceover adds wry commentary throughout.

If the story doesn’t strain itself in pursuit of originality, it does build to a satisfying conclusion, Driver becoming a target of Frank (Peter Stormare), the ruthless criminal he stole from.

With no Beaver puppet in sight, Gibson is on decent form – you’d have to go back to Maverick to find him enjoying himself this much – not least in a gem of a scene where, to fool one character, he impersonates Clint Eastwood on the telephone. That, at least, will make your day.

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Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.