AMAZON STUDIOS

★★☆☆☆

“Why am I always getting screwed for doing my job?” wonders earnest businessman Harold Soyinka, played by David Oyelowo, in the beginning of the second act of “Gringo.”

“Gringo,” director Nash Edgerton’s second feature film after “The Square,” spends 110 minutes on the twists and gore of the “always getting screwed” that Harold questions without ever making the “why” matter.

Oyelowo moves with ease away from past roles in biographical dramas like “A United Kingdom” and “Selma” — which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — into this dark comedy thriller.

The same ease cannot be associated with his character, Harold, who is trying to convince himself and his wife that his ruthless bosses at Chicago pharmaceutical company Promethium are his friends.

Harold is sent by the company’s co-presidents Richard Rusk, played by Joel Edgerton, and Elaine Markinson, played by Charlize Theron, to their Mexico-based lab to check on a supply shortage of a new drug, Cannabax. The pair decides to accompany clueless Harold to Mexico and leave him waiting outside during a key meeting. The co-presidents are trying to quickly sell off their company, along with the accompanying responsibility for the missing drugs — likely meaning a job loss for Harold.

The co-presidents’ deception propels the plot through a wild set of twists and turns, enhanced by a rotation of colorful characters. Among the most memorable are Harold’s unfaithful wife Bonnie; a sibling duo of motel owners; Richard’s hitman-turned-philanthropist-turned-extractor brother Mitch; wannabe drug-dealer Miles; and Miles’ innocent girlfriend Sunny in the role of an ingenue.

These characters can come across as flat and contrived, serving only as plot devices. Still, the ensemble produces enough shock to keep the audience engaged.

Cinematographers Natasha Brier and Eduard Grau capture the vibrancy of Mexico City and Veracruz as characters themselves — foils to the bleak Chicago winter co-presidents Elaine and Richard revel in making crudely clear they prefer.

However, even the top-billed cast does not break through the limits of a script that demands either total innocence or unbridled evil from its one-dimensional characters. Over the course of the film, Harold realizes the adage of “live by the rules” his father taught him is false. Yet, rather than being the darkly comic statement that director Edgerton seems to intend, the contrast between the rule-abiders and the renegades makes the message that rules must sometimes be broken glaringly obvious. The flat writing is especially clear in a scene where Paris Jackson, playing the alluring criminal Penny in her film debut, fails to bring personality into a tired line — “Are you in or out?”

While “Gringo” jumps jarringly between Chicago, Los Angeles and Mexico City just as quickly as it does between the storylines of its many characters, the film is most enthralling in moments of unashamedly violent twists that affirm director Edgerton’s vast experience as a stunt coordinator.

Appropriately marketed as a dark comedy, “Gringo” careens between biting hilarity and risky, sometimes cheap, laughs. As Harold dodges airport traffic and emerges with only a few scrapes from yet another wreck, the overbearing suspense present throughout the film has already worn out the audience.

The survival of Harold — an exuberantly good, hard-working Nigerian immigrant — is neither an ironic reversal of fortune that could characterize “Gringo” as a biting, modern pulp film nor even a triumphant moment. It is simply predictable.

The inordinate amount of time “Gringo” spends marveling at Harold continuing to escape death makes it easy for audience members to wonder how the film is still running. Even with its star-studded cast, the film’s excessive plot twists and shallow characters make “Gringo” a movie to skip until it hits online streaming services.

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