The Mexican

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¡”El Mexicano,” con Julia Roberts y Brad Pitt, es muy bueno!

That’s all the Spanish I know, and I’m not sure on some of it. But “The Mexican” is a delightfully original film whose tone lies somewhere between “Pulp Fiction” and “The Three Amigos.”

Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are a cohabiting Los Angeles couple named Jerry and Samantha. They attend a therapy group, and Sam is perpetually perturbed at Jerry’s inability to express himself (perhaps he’s just trying to get a word in edge-wise) and his general shiftlessness. Jerry, for his part, loves Sam as much as she loves him and would do anything for her.

At the film’s beginning, though, Sam is throwing Jerry out because he has agreed to do another job for a bad guy named Margolies. Actually, Margolies is in jail (which is sort of Jerry’s fault, which is why he has to keep doing him favors), and his underling, Nayman (Bob Balaban), is directing the action.

Jerry’s assignment is to go to Mexico and retrieve a particular gun, the titular Mexican. The Mexican has a much-storied past; in fact, we are shown the story several times, each told by a different person who has understood the gun’s mythology differently. Suffice it to say the gun was made by a poor metal-worker for a nobleman’s son, who desired to marry the gun-maker’s daughter even though she was in love with a peasant boy. The gun did not work properly, and has since had a curse affixed to it.

That curse is made to seem less superstitious when, moments after getting the gun, Jerry’s Mexico connection is accidentally killed and his car — and the gun — are stolen. He’s in and out of jail and wanders through Mexico for much of the film, flitting from one misadventure to another.

Meanwhile, Sam has left for Las Vegas, still fuming at Jerry. En route, she is almost killed by one guy and then rescued by another. This is a hired goon named Leroy (James Gandolfini, from TV’s “The Sopranos”), who turns out to be gay and quite useful in helping Sam figure out her love life. His actual job, though, is to hold Sam as a hostage until they can get a hold of Jerry and the gun. Nayman and Margolies, apparently, fear Jerry has double-crossed them when he doesn’t report back right away.

The screenplay, written by J.H. Wyman, twists and turns, breezing through every genre from crime caper to romance. The dark sense of humor is a constant, though, with smart dialogue reminiscent of David Mamet and loopy scenarios that recall the Coen Brothers. (Seeing “The Dukes of Hazzard” dubbed in Spanish is automatically funny, as is Sam’s tearfulness while watching a Mexican soap opera: “You don’t have to understand their words to feel their pain,” she says earnestly.)

There is a point where it seems the story has twisted all it can and things seem to be settled — yet the movie doesn’t end. Where it goes turns out to be quite rewarding, with a marvelous cameo and a surprisingly poignant love-story message, but there is that stretch where you wonder if the film has run out of steam. Fortunately, it hasn’t.

Brad Pitt keeps getting more and more likable, and he wears this slightly dopey fish-out-of-water role like it was tailor-made for him. Julia Roberts, too, lights up the screen every chance she gets. James Gandolfini plays against type fantastically. He’s a hired hitman, which suits him perfectly, but his hysterical sensitivity is what knocks us for a loop. Admittedly, I don’t know that I’d have found him quite so funny if I weren’t a huge “Sopranos” fan — part of the humor is certainly in seeing him playing against type — but Gandolfini is a gifted actor whether you know his work or not.

2001 has been a miserable year for movies so far. But there’s nothing like a relaxing (OK, chaotic) trip to sunny Mexico to rejuvenate us.

B+ (; R, frequent harsh profanity, some strong violence.)

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