A star vehicle in the worst sense in that nothing else matters but the central performance, not the litany of narrative pileups nor the incoherent tone or the shaking supporting characters. Nothing else matters but Robert Duvall chewing the scenery as an ornery old bastard. A Night in Old Mexico is best when it simply rests its camera on Duvall’s weathered face and cantankerous persona.
A Night in Old Mexico opens with a Dylan Thomas poem, and you know exactly which one it is. This lack of subtlety from the opening frame is a warning shot. Rage Duvall’s character will, against everyone and everything. This is Rebel with a Cause and Life Alert. We open with his character losing his land, reuniting with his grandson, and traveling down to Mexico to die. Along the way there’s some purloined money, drug dealers and gangsters, a little bit of age inappropriate romance, and enough narrative contrivance to make even soap opera writers think it’s all a bit much.
The only interesting supporting player is Angie Capeda’s stripper that gets roped into a chaste romance with Duvall. She comes into the film with a bang, chastising the drunken, lecherous boors who demand she take her top off while she’s trying to sing, and then quickly shrinks back into a narratively tidy “girl – romance object” box for the remainder of the film. Capeda’s trying to build something out of this stripper of not-quite-gold, but she can only go so far with the thinly written role. She does better than Jeremy Irvine’s limp noodle grandson. He sure is pretty, but that’s about all of the dynamic he’s allowed to express, and he can’t hold a candle to Duvall’s depth and breadth of emotional range and vulnerability.
This is a tall tale with a nice sense of atmosphere, but everything bows down to Duvall and his character. Nothing else deserves development as this is but a towering monument and reminder of what a rich actor he is. He makes the trip down to Old Mexico a mixed blessing.