Robert Duvall may be 83, but he’s still up to playing a real Texas hell raiser on the screen. He can hold his own with bad hombres. He’s still got thoughts that he could “get the girl.” Not bad for an old man.
“Who’re you callin’ old man?”
That’s his mantra in “A Night in Old Mexico,” an amiable Duvall star vehicle in the “Hud’ meets ‘Blood Simple’” mold, a rough and tumble romp South of the Border.
He plays Red, a foul-mouthed, abusive old coot who is estranged from his only family, has lost his land but not lost his desire “for some singin’ and some dancin’.”
Bellowing and boozing, he uses the excuse of a visit from the grandson he never knew (Jeremy Irvine) to ditch his caregiver, flee the trailer park where he’s to retire to, take his ancient Cadillac and hightail it for Mexico.
The kid, Gally, has notions of taking up the rodeo. But being a slicker and a Yankee, to boot, he’s picked the wrong hat and cowboy duds that look like Nashville’s idea of a cowboy. He has a lot to learn.
“Am I right, or Amarillo?” the old man taunts him.
Meanwhile, a drug deal has gone wrong and the killers who pulled it off try to catch a ride with Red and Gally. That’s a notion the wily old man tires of in an instant. The problem? They left their stash of cash in the car. The bad guys are after Red and Gally. A badder guy, hired by the drug lord, is after them all, and the cash.
And the trail follows the old man and the boy as they cross the border, take up with a stripper who wants to be a singer (Angie Cepeda) and generally stir things up.
The melodramatic plot does nothing to spoil one’s enjoyment of Duvall’s performance here. Red is pushy, delusionally certain of his charms, quick to anger and quicker to tell tall tales of his mythic past.
“The older they get,” the kid learns, “the better they were when they were young.”
Duvall makes us believe that Red believes that he’s up for anything, that he has a shot with a woman one fourth his age.
“Better an ol’man’s darlin’ than a young man’s slave.”
Director Emilio Aragon, working from a William D. Wittliff (“Barbarosa,” “Legends of the Fall”) script, creates a vivid milieu of honky tonks and brothels where Jerry Jeff Walker singing “I Like My Women Just a Tad on the Trashy Side” is on the jukebox. Director and writer give the kid a more complete coming-of-age story arc, from tin horn to man, but wisely keep the focus on Duvall. Every insult, every gripe, every threat out of Red’s mouth is quotable.
“Watch it like it’s your own,” he growls to some Mexicans who park his car, “but ‘member it ain’t.”
Red is the very embodiment of the poet’s description of one who will “not go gently” into the coming night. “A Night in Old Mexico” suggests Red’s credo could be Duvall’s, and filmgoers are all the richer for it.
“I ain’t done yet. I got a few pleasures to go.”
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