Emilio Aragón’s A Night in Old Mexico is a star vehicle in the strictest sense, as all matters of storytelling are fashioned as flagrant hero worship to Robert Duvall. After his dilapidated ranch has been bought out to create real estate, Red Bovie (Duvall) rejects a new lifestyle in a camper park, hightailing it to Mexico (or, rather, “Old Mexico” as he redundantly insists on calling it) with his grandson, Gally (Jeremy Irvine), in tow. There, the two inadvertently acquire a satchel full of money wanted by gangsters.
Red is the kind of lazily written, thankless curmudgeon role that uses the trials of advanced age for cheap laughs rather than harnessing a veteran actor’s talent to engage our empathy; in this sense, Red’s characterization as a belligerent, prostitute-loving coot is rendered so outlandish that the audience has no choice but to laugh at him. Most, if not all, of the film’s attempts at humor derive from Red’s antics and his wariness of modern life, yet the jokes (always in Duvall’s favor) are devoid of feeling and waste thematic conflict on superficial gags.
The film’s bias toward Red especially doesn’t help the supporting cast, whose roles as pseudo-conscious figures ultimately become obsolete. Gally, the son of Red’s estranged son, is seemingly present only to provide some semblance of conflict for Red, and is repeatedly thwarted in his attempts to corral his grandfather and bring him back home; Aragón never develops the family dynamic further than essentially saying that Red’s advanced age allows him to do what he wants, regardless of any obstacle. Beyond Gally and other such milquetoast characters, the sense of subservience extends to the filmmakers themselves, who seem to refuse to dwell or even question the consequences of Red’s dubious behavior. Instead, they wholly buy into Red’s antiquated ideology, and without irony.
This aspect of the film becomes glaring once Patty Wafers (Angie Cepeda), a local stripper, joins up with Red and Gally and declares that Red see her for who she truly is, which doesn’t necessarily carry the intended bittersweet sentiment after we’ve seen Red treat a litany of women as nothing more than a means to fulfill his sex drive; Red even seems to frequently imply that women should either be whores or allow themselves to be domesticated, a belief rooted in his ex-wife running off while he was “waiting on [his] biscuits.” Aside from an elderly gas station attendant’s slight rebuttal to one of Red’s many insults and wisecracks, the programmatic story offers no other means, large or small, of challenging Red’s absurd sense of authority.