With Mel Gibson’s career long falling by the wayside, the action star returns to his B-movie roots in another attempt to reignite his career after years of trouble in his personal life.
Being chased by the police after a botched heist, Driver (Gibson) crashes through the US-Mexico border to take his chances in the Mexican legal system. But after the local police pocket the swag, he’s sent to prison under an arbitrary misdemeanour only to find life behind bars in Central America is nothing quite like what he’s used to.
Making an unexpected companion in a nine-year-old boy (Hernandez), Driver works his way up the food chain to discover his new friend’s life is at risk. Saving the boy and his mother’s lives quickly becomes just as important as finding a way out himself, but luckily if there were one man for the job, it would be Driver.
Persistent voiceovers doing a lazy job of what the director should have told in the narrative are fairly annoying at first, however once How I Spent My Summer Vacation gets into a rhythm, it’s not necessarily what you’d come to expect.
The film is set almost exclusively in a Mexican prison, and filmed entirely on location the setting feels refreshingly realistic. In the end they have to diversify but it’s still a really nice twist, if only the movie’s grit and intensity were able to match the locations too.
While their surroundings portray the horror of living behind bars, there isn’t the sort of inmate rivalry you might expect as Driver gets himself in amongst the top channels far too easily. More backstory to the local don and his relationship with the central kid also wouldn’t have gone amiss; the pair have a nice tussle that develops throughout the film, but why the relationship means so much is delivered in a mere line where as it would have been nice to see it explored a little more.
Mel Gibson is as accomplished as you’d expect though it does sometimes feel like he’s on autopilot. Not because his performance feels lazy, just because the script never really pushes him. Young actor Kevin Hernandez is more impressive, and a world away from his cushy role in The Sitter; he could have a very nice career in the future.
There are moments to enjoy in How I Spent My Summer Vacation but on the whole it’s a fairly average affair. Gibson co-wrote and co-produced the film, and it’s a less than subtle attempt to get him back to the renega de action star roles with which he made his name. And yet beyond a wonderful set piece in a high office building, there’s some way to go yet before his reputation will be repaired.