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Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt join forces for "The Mexican," a monumental misfire.

Shooting Blanks

Fans have been waiting for this for years, perhaps even whole lifetimes. Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts playing lovers in a big Hollywood movie. The current two most beautiful people in the world being beautiful together. How could they not inspire beauteous bonanzas at the box office? Sadly, the answer to that quasi-rhetorical question is "The Mexican," an agonizing two-hour Western/self-actualization romance/mob comedy that's guaranteed to make money simply because of the presence of Pitt and Roberts. Too bad this surefire hit is a monumental misfire. Disjointed, poorly acted, overly long and dull to boot, "The Mexican" has only a few aspects worthy of note: a souped-up El Camino; a mean-tempered, football-loving, junkyard dog; and James Gandolfini, who outshines the big stars with ease.

The movie's plot revolves around a lovely but cursed pistol, but it's painfully evident early-on that the filmmakers are shooting blanks. When we meet our lovely star couple, they're in the middle of an argument that leads to a breakup that sends them in separate directions. And, truthfully, into two separate movies. Pitt and Roberts have their own little movies running simultaneously, and they only reunite during the final third of the movie. Which may well be a blessing in disguise, considering how slapped-together this adventure/romance feels.

Samantha (Roberts) is furious because her cheerfully dim boyfriend, Jerry (Pitt), a mob bagman, has accepted another assignment rather than live up to his promise to take her to Las Vegas. You see, she has these incredible hands that are just begging to become a croupier. Jerry's predicament is that he is such a bumbling idiot, he has to take the assignment or his boss (Bob Balaban) will kill him. This makes no difference to Sam as she spouts the self-actualization mantra from their couples' therapy sessions. Choosing life over his promise, Jerry heads to Mexico, where we are presented with empirical evidence that Jerry is indeed the moron his boss described. In other words, he screws up big time.

Meanwhile, as Sam heads to Las Vegas, she finds herself in a shootout between two hitmen who wish to take her hostage. Gandolfini's Leroy wins, and, somehow, he and Sam bond. It turns out he's gay, and Sam, being a female, understands his sensitive side. But a one-night stand engineered by Sam ends badly, and Leroy reconnects with his inner hitman. The lackluster storyline picks up a bit when Sam and Jerry finally meet up in Mexico — the screen does love Roberts and Pitt — but things go quickly flat as we're handed a sepia-tone flashback about the history and curse of the pistol. Even the surprise appearance by an Oscar winner at the 11th hour can't save this deadly romance.

Speaking of romance, no doubt Hollywood envisioned the Pitt/Roberts ploy as a terrific, cuddly date movie. But "The Mexican" isn't exactly a heartwarming smile fest. First, it's got a body count about 18 times higher than most date movies, including one poor fellow who's dispatched to his maker by none other than a pistol-packing Roberts. While Roberts' megawatt smile goes a long way toward keeping us watching, it's Pitt who fares better in this wrongheaded union. He's perfectly at ease in grungy, days-old clothes, unshaven and presumably unwashed. He's actually quite funny as the dim "gringo" who has little understanding of what's happening around him. However, it's Gandolfini who does the most with his character, fleshing out a one-joke stereotype into someone we almost begin to care about. He certainly steals the show, but that's not a major accomplishment considering this mess. But then there's that dog. I really liked that dog.