Author: Mel Gibson
Writer’s Potential: 8
Amid the chaos and corruption of a Mexican prison, an American criminal bonds with a Mexican boy.
After a reckless chase along the U.S.-Mexico border, a pair of bank robbers flip their car at a high speed against a wall dividing the two countries. A Mexican cop, VAZQUEZ, faces off against an American cop over who has jurisdiction. Eventually, the American gives up and lets Vazquez take them. The car’s DRIVER and his partner (who wears a smiling clown mask) are interrogated by Vazquez and one of his four partners, LUIS. Driver refuses to give up any information about himself, and they can’t find anything on him since he’s had his fingerprints removed. During the interrogation, Driver’s wounded partner dies. Driver is sent to a “classification cell” in El Pueblito, a vast prison in Tijuana. In this large cell, LACRAS (soldiers of the prison’s “self-government”) corral the new inmates while the PRISON DIRECTOR strongly hints that the prison experience will go a lot better if the inmates bribe officials. Driver watches the lacras humiliate and beat other inmates for their shoes. Driver is ready for them, and he beats the lacras—led by CARLOS—pretty well before they gang up on him. That night, the newcomers are dragged out of the classification cell and into a crowded courtyard that looks reminiscent of a village square: people take water from a huge well in the center, kiosks selling food and merchandise have been erected, etc.
The prison buildings are laid out in a complex, labyrinthine structure, making the place seem small when, in reality, it’s quite large. Driver is led to a cellblock, which he moves through in an attempt to find a place to sleep. The place is jam-packed with prisoners. He ends up going back into the courtyard to try to find a spot, when he sees Carlos enter a small building. Driver follows Carlos into a bathroom. He knocks Carlos unconscious, takes his gun, money, and watch. Driver hides the gun on a light fixture hanging from the ceiling. Back in the courtyard, Driver tries to find a place to sleep. He spots a doctor shooting inmates with heroin. Driver finally finds an empty place along the wall, next to a filthy man with bad gas. The next morning, lacras wander the grounds, waking inmates. Driver heads to the main square, which is like a full town: taco stands, fruit stands, clothing, shoe repair, churches, a soccer field, shack-like apartments. Driver notices full families, including young children, living in this place. Some of the mothers take their children to the gates exiting the prison, and the children are allowed out. Driver doesn’t understand why.
Driver is assigned a job by one of the lacras he beat up. As a result, he gets garbage duty. He’s led through a huge maze of dusty streets to an enormous garbage dump. Midday, a nurse shows up with a bunch of lacras. They pin Driver to the ground (he fights the whole way) while she draws blood. Driver is baffled. Driver returns to the main square, where he spots Carlos and CARNAL collecting rent from the apartment-dwellers. Another man, CARACAS, commands fear and respect as he moves through the square. He joins Carnal and Carlos. Driver makes a note that Carnal makes no move to give the rent money to Caracas. Caracas’s cell phone rings. The call is coming from a man observing the square from a balcony—JAVI. Before Driver can watch more, a guard announces he has a visitor. The visitor, known only as EMBASSY GUY, is a fat and corrupt agent of the U.S. embassy. He tries to get some information out of Driver, who won’t talk. Nevertheless, Embassy Guy doesn’t believe the official report—that Driver was caught trying to bring a car full of valium into the U.S. The lack of fingerprints tell Embassy Guy that Driver is a career criminal who wouldn’t waste his time on something so small-time. Embassy Guy demands a monthly fee in exchange for protecting Driver’s life while he’s in prison. Driver realizes if he wants to get out, he’s going to need money. While nobody’s looking, Driver steals lighter fluid from the taco stand, then douses it and throws a lit cigarette at it. While everyone’s distracted, Driver steals the money from the doctor’s heroin shack and takes it to El Pueblito’s “7-Eleven”—a surprisingly well-stocked convenience store. There, Driver sees THE KID, a 9-year-old buying a Coke. The Kid spots him, too—buying cigarettes.
Outside, The Kid sneaks up on Driver and asks for a cigarette. Driver refuses, until The Kid coolly extorts him by implying he knows Driver burned the taco stand and stole the doctor’s money. Driver hands the cigarette over. Driver asks why so many families are here; The Kid says those with money can bring their families to stay with them. Driver wonders why The Kid doesn’t go to school with the other kids. The Kid says he’s “special,” so he can’t leave the prison. Before he can explain the comment, The Kid’s MOM appears, enraged to find The Kid smoking. She storms away with the kid. Later, Driver watches Carnal and Carlos evict a woman. He approaches Carnal, asking for a place to stay. With the amount of money he has, Driver can’t get much more than a coffin-sized private room—but it’s better than outside. That night, Driver buys his way into the bathroom and showers for the first time since his arrival. It’s a nice, peaceful feeling. Outside, Driver watches the hookers and junkies wandering the square. He discovers an elaborated, gated-off VIP section of the prison, where inmates live in the equivalent of suburban homes and enjoy a fancy-dress outdoor casino. Driver sees Mom inside. She sees him staring and comes to the other side of the gate, where she punches Driver out. The Kid watches this. Mom is angry that he’s out at night.
The next day, Driver talks to The Kid about escape. He thinks it looks easy, considering they let family members in and out all day. The Kid explains it’s more complicated than that. He says that even Javi, whose corruption runs the prison, has to come back if he leaves. The Kid mutters that he’ll kill Javi someday, but he won’t explain why. While they watch, The Kid explains everything: Caracas is Javi’s brother, Carnal is their cousin, and they’re all in it together. Driver asks about them drawing blood. The Kid won’t talk about it. Embassy Guy meets Vazquez and a partner, ROMERO, at a nightclub. He shows them a newspaper showing that Luis was tortured and killed. He thinks this has something to do with them arresting Driver and offers help—for a price. Vazquez sends him away. At night, Carnal comes to The Kid’s house and forces Mom to visit Javi. She unhappily leaves.
The next day is Sunday, family visiting day. The place is more packed than usual, and makeshift conjugal visit tents have been erected for the event. Driver sees The Kid staring bitterly at Javi across the square. Driver asks how The Kid plans to kill him. When The Kid tells him he’ll stab him in the stomach, Driver explains why that’s a bad plan. The Kid realizes Driver isn’t kidding around. The Kid explains that he and Javi share an extremely rare blood type—also shared by The Kid’s father, whom Javi killed two years ago to replace his liver. He wants The Kid around in case he needs another replacement. This is why they test the blood of new inmates, but so far, nobody has come up a match except The Kid. Heartened by The Kid’s opening up, Driver explains that his first stint in prison (at age 14) was the result of trying to kill his father. He urges The Kid to do it right if he’s going to kill Javi. They need a plan, so Driver decides they need to keep watching and figuring things out. The Kid eavesdrops on Javi and Caracas and learns neither of them trust Carnal, who is stealing from them. Seeing the bond forming between Driver and The Kid, Mom softens to Driver. Driver is taken to see more visitors—Vazquez and Romero. They sarcastically thank him for his “financial contribution” to their families (they took the money from the bank heist). They ask where Driver got the money, because they fear somebody might be looking for it. Driver refuses to tell them. Instead, he tells them to stop spending the money, hide it, and lay low, so that when he gets out and kills them, he’ll have something left to retire on. The cops aren’t amused.
Driver comes up with a plan to steal Carnal’s wad of rent money. He gives Carlos’s watch to The Kid to distract Carlos. When Carnal is alone, Driver picks his pocket while he crosses the crowded square. Later, Driver and Mom bond over their respective bad relationships. She explains that she and her husband were drug dealers. Driver gripes that his wife left him for a business associate, “Reginald T. Barnes,” who screwed Driver over and sent him to prison. It’s Driver’s dream to kill Barnes. Caracas comes to Carnal to collect the rent money. When Carnal insists he was robbed, Caracas is enraged. Carlos realizes Carnal must have been robbed when he saw The Kid with his watch. They know Driver, who’s been spending a lot of time with The Kid, must be behind the robbery. Embassy Guy shows up at the Tijuana impound lot and finds four American hitmen searching the car. He offers to send them to Driver if they pay him enough.
Carnal and Carlos burst into The Kid’s house, angry about the stolen money. They knock The Kid out and Carnal rapes Mom. Carlos goes outside and finds Driver. When he starts shooting, Driver runs into the bathroom, grabs the gun from the light fixture, and kills Carlos. Meanwhile, Caracas bursts into The Kid’s house and is shocked by what Carnal has done. He beats the hell out of Carnal. Driver bursts in and kills Carnal just before he can knock out Carnal with a frying pan. Javi has his lacras beat the hell out of Driver and take him to a private dungeon. Caracas tells Javi they should kill Driver. Javi goes to talk to Driver, who is impressed by how much Driver has learned (he mentions the liver) and his brazen attitude toward Javi’s own relatives. Embassy Guy visits Driver, wanting his payoff. Driver does pay him, and Embassy Guy lets slip that hitmen are after him. Driver realizes he needs to do something to get his money.
Driver tells Caracas about the money Vazquez and Romero recovered after his arrest and tells them he stole it from a gangster in San Diego. Meanwhile, the hitmen have found Vazquez and Romero and torture them. The duo only recovered half the stolen money—there’s still $2 million unaccounted for. The hitmen cut off toes to encourage the men to talk, but they sincerely don’t know about additional money. FRANK, a mobster-type, calls the hitmen’s computer through Skype and orders the cops to tell him what happened to Driver. They say he’s in El Pueblito, but he had no ID or fingerprints. Frank orders his men to go after Driver in the prison. Caracas and Javi discuss the problem with Driver. Embassy Guy meets with the hitmen outside the prison, with Driver’s file. Inside, Embassy Guy makes sure the lacras know exactly where the Americans are coming from. They set up snipers in a watchtower.
The Americans and lacras go toe to toe in the main square, shooting other inmates in the process. The Kid and Mom are in the fray. When Driver spots this, he goes after them and makes sure they’re hidden under cover. He starts shooting at the Americans. After a long shootout involving the casual tossing of grenades, the Americans are eventually killed (as are many lacras). Javi and Caracas decide to let Driver out. He’ll recover all the money—taking only a small cut—if they let him out to kill Frank. They agree. A prison printing press makes Driver a fake driver’s license. Javi calls two hitmen of his own to take out Driver after he takes out Frank. Javi and Caracas supply Driver with a car, weapons, and expenses. After Driver leaves, the Prison Director tells Javi that the government is shutting down the prison, and they intend to send a small army to ensure that the prison stays shut down. Javi doesn’t want to risk losing The Kid, so he decides to have the transplant done before they shut down the prison.
In California, Driver spots Javi’s hitmen following him. At a gas station, he tampers with their car, forcing them to stall a few miles up the road. Driver sets up a sniper perch and takes them both out as they check the engine. Driver continues on his way. Meanwhile, Mom realizes something’s happening. She brings The Kid to a friend’s home, and they hide him in a hole in the closet. Javi ties Mom to a chair and tortures her, but she won’t talk. Angered, The Kid reappears in the doorway and pokes himself in the side, trying to destroy the liver before they can take it. Imitating Sean Connery, Driver makes a phone call to STEVE JOBS and requests a meeting. Jobs agrees and sets it up. Driver then calls Frank’s LAWYER, imitating Jobs, and requests a meeting with Frank, strongly implying he wants to get in the coke-dealing business. Lawyer discusses this with Frank, who agrees to set up the meeting.
Driver shows up at Apple Computer’s headquarters, pretending to be Sean Connery’s assistant, “Reginald T. Barnes.” He carries an umbrella despite the sunny day. Driver is cordial to Jobs shortly before tying him up and putting him the bathroom of his private office. When Frank, Lawyer, and Frank’s BODYGUARD arrive, Driver pretends to be Jobs’s assistant. While pretending to make drinks for them, he throws a grenade at them and hides in the bathroom. All three are killed. The concussion sets off the fire sprinklers. Driver opens his umbrella and walks calmly out of the office. The doctor rushes The Kid to the operating room. He stabilizes him and realizes The Kid missed his heart. The doctor says, at the earliest, they can operate the following morning. Driver returns to Tijuana, where Embassy Guy is traumatizing two teenage prostitutes by forcing them to eat chiles dipped in hot sauce. After Driver finds out where his car is being held (and learns about the raid on the prison), he has the girls tie up Embassy Guy and slather some hot sauce in his nose.
Driver returns to the prison, using Embassy Guy’s credentials to get inside amid the chaos of federal soldiers rounding up as many inmates as possible while the lacras shoot back. Using the backdrop as a distraction, Driver manages to sneak into the VIP section. He holds a gun on the doctor until he puts The Kid’s liver back. Caracas bursts in. Driver threatens to kill Javi if he doesn’t bring Mom to him. Per Javi’s request, an ambulance shows up to transport him to the new prison. Caracas returns with Mom. Driver shoots him in the head, then shoots Javi. Mom shoots the doctor. They take the medics’ clothes and rush The Kid to the ambulance, which takes them out of the prison quickly. Some time later, the patched-up Driver, Mom, and The Kid go to a Tijuana junkyard. Driver’s car has been stripped for parts, but the spare tire is rusted onto the trunk. With considerable effort, Driver breaks it free—and finds the other $2 million. Meanwhile, hitmen burst into Driver’s EX-WIFE’s house and kill REGINALD T. BARNES in front of her.
Driver, Mom, and The Kid relax on a Mexican beach.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation is an offbeat action script that’s frequently entertaining and engaging. However, its third act takes the story completely off the rails in a way that’s still entertaining, without making any actual narrative sense. As written, it merits a consider.
The first act is very strong, introducing Driver and the world of the prison with meticulous detail and surprisingly little dialogue. Although Driver spends much of the first act merely snooping around the prison, he remains an active, engaging character—a smart guy doing his homework before he really takes action. The second act continues solidly enough, deftly balancing a number of subplots—the corruption within the prison, the importance of The Kid’s liver, and Embassy Guy playing everyone against each other in his pursuit of compensation—as Driver’s frustration with the prison and the people in it mounts.
It’s when Driver leaves the prison in the third act that the story goes a little insane. The writer introduces Frank and turns him into an important villain within a few pages. This is followed with a truly ridiculous (and tonally jarring) scheme to kill him by taking advantage of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The first two acts have their moments of levity, but overall, it’s a mostly tragic examination of a Mexican prison gone awry. Driver does eventually deliver justice to those who ruined the place (and made The Kid and Mom’s lives a living hell), but everything that happens when Driver leaves the prison feels like an unnecessary, weird-for-weird’s-sake distraction rather than a natural narrative progression. As a result, the writer breezes past the final confrontation with two villains we’ve grown to hate (Javi and Caracas). The ending is satisfying enough, but the loss of focus in the third is as frustrating as it is mind-boggling.
The characters are pretty solid. The writer does a great job of revealing the characters through their actions more than their words, and he builds a vast, nuanced world within this crazy prison. Whether it’s realistic or not makes little difference; the writer manages to make everyone and everything (up until the third act) feel real with impressive verisimilitude. Driver, in particular, is very well-written: a quiet, steely-eyed antihero who manages to stay interesting instead of being tedious.
Driver’s bond with The Kid and subdued relationship with Mom are also handled well. The Kid’s youthful angst is effectively disheartening, but it never goes over-the-top. Mom isn’t quite as fully developed, but the writer wisely eschews a stereotypical romance with Driver. An attraction is there, but it doesn’t go too far too quickly. The villains within the prison are also pretty interesting—pragmatic, violent businessmen who nonetheless have a strange code of honor. They’re not good people, but they’re also not cartoonishly evil, which makes them a little bit more frightening. Even Embassy Guy, the character who comes closest to being a full-on stereotype, manages to let his greed take his character to interesting, unexpected places.
Only Frank stands alone as a poorly defined, never-interesting character who serves little purpose beyond dying. As mentioned earlier, the writer puts an amazing amount of emphasis on this death, which causes the third act to feel rushed and unfocused. Other than his role as the guy Driver stole the money from, he serves no story purpose whatsoever. The writer could easily remove Frank and the hitmen chasing Driver and have a tighter, more focused script.
Despite the problems, the script is still engaging, offbeat, and action-packed. It’s possible that a great actor playing Driver can help smooth over the unfocused third act.