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Two mega-stars and a pistol

There is no Mexican of importance in “The Mexican.” Or rather, the eponymous “Mexican” is not a man but a pistol, with a long complicated history. The untangling of this history keeps Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, and James Gandolfini (of “The Sopranos”) busy for a couple of hours — although they never succeed in truly untangling it — their bumbling hits and misses making up the comic twists and turns of the story.

Pitt is a foot soldier of a singularly rare incompetence, stumbling his way through a complex plot on his last assignment for an American crime family. With this foolish duffer, Julia Roberts has been carrying on a bumpy love affair. In fact, when Pitt announces he’s got this last job to pull, so he can’t accompany her to Las Vegas, she breaks the relationship off entirely.

Why anyone should want this ornate Mexican dueling pistol is explained perhaps three times in the film, all mutually contradictory. The film, as you can see, is a comedy. But it’s got its existential pretensions.

For a few years now, Julia Roberts has been the queen of Hollywood. Pulling down the highest salaries for a woman in the place and, with the longest list of hits, she can virtually do no wrong it seems. But “The Mexican,” which has a huge subplot involving Julia, leaves the audience somewhat confused — aside from unadulterated scorn, does Julia have any feeling for Brad Pitt?

The answer is highly ambivalent. In the movie’s second scene, Julia is throwing all Brad’s clothes and other throwable property out the window because he won’t come to Las Vegas with her, where she has plans to become a waitress and then a croupier. Brad can’t go to Las Vegas with her because of a “family” commitment of his.

Here the movie veers off onto a lively subplot in which Julia Roberts is kidnapped by Gandolfini, rescuing her from a black man who is taking her hostage in a ladies room in Las Vegas. Gandolfini turns out to be something of a neurotic — in fact, a homosexual neurotic. The wave of ‘be kind to our homosexual friends’ seems to grow and grow and, after listening to tales of Gandolfini’s sad sex life, Julia — and the entire audience — decides he is one of the story’s good guys.

Then the black man turns up again. But there have been too many black men in movies being good guys these days, so this one is not. Gandolfini, saving her life again, goes on to pose, in fact, deep questions about love: such as, “If you really love someone, when do you give up?”

The answer to this, and the last line of the movie, is, of course: “never.”

But before then, in the film’s last reel, we suddenly meet (in a cameo role), Gene Hackman, who has been in prison for five years, brooding about Brad Pitt, a blunder-by whom has landed Hackman in the prison to begin with. While in prison, Hackman has had to listen to endless stories from his cellmate about the cellmate’s grandfather who, of all people, was the gunsmith who made “the pistol.”

That’s not the end of the film by any means but, eventually, audiences will be much relieved when Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts finally do fall into each other’s arms. Which might not end the master pistol story, but carries it as far as anyone could want.