Heading South

"The Mexican" poses a problem for moviegoers everywhere. To go or not to go? You really want to see Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt together. And why not? The wattage both these stars produce with their smiles could solve California's energy crisis. But what their considerable charm can't salvage is "The Mexican," a tired, confused romantic comedy/noir thriller with all the suspense of an infomercial. Maybe it will help you decide if you know that Julia and Brad spend most of the movie apart. They're together only at the beginning (bickering) and at the end (bickering and making up).

Pitt is the hapless schlemiel Jerry, blackmailed by gangsters to go on a mission to Mexico to retrieve a valuable antique pistol (the Mexican of the title). Roberts is the volatile, psychobabbling Samantha, who, fed up with Jerry's lameness, decides to move to Vegas. En route, she is kidnapped by a hit man (James Gandolfini) who holds her hostage to guarantee that Jerry returns with the gun. Tone-deaf director Gore Verbinski encourages everyone to flail his arms and act cuter than he ought to, but Gandolfini resists the urge.

His sensitive killer provides the film's nicest surprises, and he and Roberts generate the only moments of authentic feeling. The rest is tedium: we don't care about the gun's legend, or the double-crosses that befall Jerry, and the south-of-the-border stereotypes reek of gringo condescension. Brad and Julia, of course, look great. Buy the poster; skip the movie.