Clint Eastwood is known for his ruthless efficiency as a filmmaker, but “The Mule” feels dashed off at best, barely even a movie. It’s a strange rough draft, poorly executed and disastrously performed, despite the starry cast. Rating: 1 star out of 4.
The first line uttered in Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule” is from Earl Stone (Eastwood), who greets one of the workers on his daylily farm: “Hey José, what’s with the taco wagon? It’s like you were born to be deported.” Then José and Earl laugh, which is how all of Earl’s many wildly racist remarks are treated in “The Mule.” It’s as if they’re completely harmless, because Earl’s just a curmudgeonly old timer who doesn’t know better. Or does he? Regardless, hundreds of people are responsible for “The Mule,” who very much should have known better than to release this bizarre, offensive debacle.
“The Mule” is adapted by screenwriter Nick Schenk from a New York Times Magazine article, “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-year Old Drug Mule” by Sam Dolnick. (Schenk also wrote Eastwood’s “Gran Torino.”) The film is a fairly straightforward adaptation of the true story, but the cultural stereotypes and truly appalling treatment of women is all thanks to Schenk and Eastwood.
Earl’s life of crime starts with the World Wide Web, which decimates his daylily empire. At the behest of his granddaughter’s pal, he shows up to a tire shop hoping to get paid to drive. The group of Mexican men he encounters loads his truck with duffel bags and a burner phone and send him on his way. It’s easy enough work for the envelopes of cash he receives, and Earl goes undetected by police, especially when he rambles at them about pecans and caramelized corn.
Eastwood is known for his ruthless efficiency as a filmmaker, but “The Mule” feels dashed off at best, barely even a movie. It’s a strange rough draft, poorly executed and disastrously performed, despite the starry cast. Eastwood clearly called in every favor: Bradley Cooper, Andy Garcia, Laurence Fishburne and his own daughter Alison all show up for a few thankless, one-note roles.
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★ “The Mule,” with Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Dianne Wiest, Andy Garcia, Laurence Fishburne, Taissa Farmiga, Alison Eastwood, Michael Peña. Directed by Clint Eastwood. 116 minutes. Rated R for language throughout and brief sexuality/nudity. Opens Dec. 14 at multiple theaters.