David Oyelowo, who to date has primarily in dramas, gets to flex his comedic muscles in this week’s Gringo. He plays Harold, a mid-level executive at a pharmaceutical company that’s looking to corner the market with an innovation around medical marijuana. To help bring that plan to fruition he’s dispatched by Richard and Elaine (Joel Edgerton and Charlize Theron, respectively), the company’s high-powered heads, to deliver a new formula to a plant in Mexico so production can begin.
Things go badly for Harold pretty quickly. What he thought was going to be a simple business trip turns into a life-or-death situation as he finds himself playing the pawn in the games being played on one hand by Richard and Elaine and on the other by the drug cartel they’ve honked off. It takes all his luck and wit just to stay alive as everyone, it seems, is gunning for him for various reasons. The only help he finds comes from the mercenary dispatched to find him (Sharlto Copley) and Sunny (Amanda Seyfried), a young woman who he meets in the course of his adventures.
The first poster has Harold looking very put out and confused at the top, with the other characters are arrayed around the bottom, all within a bright collage of images that relate to different plot points, from guns to marijuana leaves to money and more.
A series of character posters put each member of the cast in their own spotlight, with each character surrounded by a design meant to visually communicate their personality, or what’s important to them. So Richard is surrounded by cash and, Harold by booze and Mexican party supplies and so on. They’re the same images used on the first poster, just broken out, so there’s a nice visual consistency happening here.
Richard and Elaine are working to convince two corporate execs to move forward with a new weed pill as the first trailer opens, a case Elaine makes more convincingly by appealing to the lowest common denominator in the room. Harold is enlisted by Richard to take a trip to Mexico to hand-deliver the formula for the pill to a lab there for production. He’s having a good time…right up to the moment he’s kidnapped by members of the cartel. It turns out Harold’s company reneged on a deal and they took it poorly. So the company sends in a recovery specialist to get him out, but that isn’t quite as neat an operation as it should have been.
It’s a fast-paced action comedy being sold here, one that keeps the hijinks moving so you don’t have enough time to notice any problems with the story. That’s not a knock, these are great kinds of movies. I’m hooked by the promise of a crazy adventure with a guy who’s out of his depth but keeps surviving by the skin of his teeth and because the people chasing him keep getting in their own way.
The second trailer wasn’t all that different, just a few slightly altered beats here and there. It’s the same basic premise, though, that Harold’s simple business trip has gone very bad and he’s getting minimal help from Richard and Elaine, who are more concerned with their own fates.
Online and Social
Amazon gave the movie a pretty basic official website, with just the trailers, a “Synopsis” and the ability to add the release date to your calendar app of choice along with links to the profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A TV spot laid out the basic elements of the story, that Harold has been dispatched on a trip by his employer that quickly turns south, with hilarious results. Another did roughly the same thing but with a bit more of a focus on the reluctance of Elaine and Richard to meet the demands of the kidnappers and what that means for Harold.
Social ads used the various videos while other online ads used the colorful key art.
Media and Publicity
Not much happening here. There were a few short interviews with Oyelowo like this where he talked about the movie and how refreshing it was to get to be in a comedy for a change. Theron made an appearance at a recent NASCAR race to serve as the official starter and, in a joint interview with Oyelowo, talked about her history with pot, which I guess is appropriate given the movie’s story. Edgerton made a few comments about the movie as well, though he was often pulling double duty promoting both this and Red Sparrow, which just came out last week.
It took a while for this campaign to really win me over. Not that it seemed bad, but it wasn’t until both a poster and trailer had been released that I really started getting the theme Amazon Studios was going for here and saw it had a brand for the movie in mind. From there on out I got that they were going for dark comedy more than anything else and that the movie was being positioned as a more or less bright antidote for adult moviegoers who might be tired of either franchises or dark dramas.
It’s Oyelowo that really jumps out in the campaign and it’s him that provides the strongest reason to see the movie. Everyone else is having fun, but seeing he has comedic chops (as well as Edgerton) is a breath of fresh air as these two are usually associated with much more formal dramas. Amazon isn’t selling it as a stoner comedy – no one actually smokes pot or is seen as being under the influence- it’s just a violent farce.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
Even though the movie was shot two years ago (meaning before whatever dank timeline we’re currently part of), David Oyelowo says it has a lot to say about immigration and other issues. He also clarifies that the role he plays was originally meant for a white actor, showing how you can add some interesting elements when you think outside the racial box.
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