Old Gringo

Like much of Reds, this is a very old-fashioned Hollywood blockbuster that is supposed to be progressive, although the sentimentality and simplicity of the conception tend to drag it down. An American spinster (Jane Fonda) goes to Mexico in 1913 to teach English, but finds herself in the midst of the Mexican revolution, and drawn to both a neurotic general in Pancho Villa’s army (Jimmy Smits) and a crochety, 71-year-old former journalist from the U.S. (Gregory Peck), the old gringo of the title, who turns out to be Ambrose Bierce. Directed and cowritten by Luis Puenzo (The Official Story), this adaptation of Carlos Fuentes’s novel, a long-nurtured project developed over eight years by Fonda, ultimately founders due to a surfeit of old Hollywood thinking: a rather soggy conception of Bierce and an unconvincing performance by Peck that both smack of shameless Oscar-mongering, a cliched view of Mexicans (including such standbys as the life-enhancing prostitute), and a surprisingly drab and uninteresting performance by Fonda that seems intended to stir us with its simplicity. Not entirely uninterestingsome of the crowd scenes and location shooting is watchable, and Peck can be charming when he doesn’t try too hardbut Fonda’s soupy offscreen narration tends to drown the film’s occasional virtues in unearned pieties (1989). (JR)

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