Back in the 1970s, Turkish authorities got very upset at the critical portrayal of their prison system in the film Midnight Express. Well, that is nothing compared to the job the latest Mel Gibson Comeback Special does on the Mexican penal system.

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The conditions in the mixed sex establishment where a gringo robber (Gibson) finds himself incarcerated, really are like a holiday camp – albeit a debauched, unruly version of Butlins. Cells and wardens are rare; guns, drugs, gambling and prostitution are rife.

Gibson is introduced wearing a clown mask and the foolhardy manner in which he is apprehended after his latest misdemeanour suggests he’s a bit of chump. This corrupt, lawless hellhole should be impossible for him to survive in. But, once inside, he quickly establishes himself as criminal mastermind – a man who knows all the angles.

Rather than a prison drama, the film is closer to a Yojimbo-style action drama with Gibson’s character, a man with no name, trying to play the various factions against each other as he tries to leverage not only a way out but also a way to regain the stolen money.

How I Spent is a solidly entertaining black comic action adventure. Gibson narrates in a laconic drawl and you sense he could do wonders in a modern equivalent of classic hardboiled pulp. This, though, is not contemporary

Jim Thompson. It is Hollywood safe and Hollywood preposterous and the lack of any sense of jeopardy or credibility extinguishes any tension.

Gibson is, however, as charismatic as ever and the film cracks along nicely. If this doesn’t get him back into filmgoers’ good books then his career probably is sunk. But Mad Mel can never quite bring himself to take the easy route.

After fashioning himself an audience-friendly revenge piece packed with laughs, he then decides to have almost half of it in subtitled Spanish and throw in odd moments of outlandish, unhinged violence – a little bit of torture, nine-year-olds self-mutilating, a farcical slow motion prison yard shoot-out.

Also, given his off-screen troubles, was a film in which a single Caucasian male manages to outwit seemingly hundreds of Mexicans, almost all of whom are corrupt and immoral, entirely wise?

HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION (15)

Director: Adrian Grunberg

Starring Mel Gibson, Dolores Heredia, Kevin Hernandez, Daniel Giménez Cacho and Peter Stormare

Length: 95 mins

***

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