A couple working on the give-and-take aspects of their relationship, an exquisitely crafted antique pistol with something of a diverse history and some questions concerning who is working for whom, all figure prominently in `The Mexican,' a black comedy directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt. Jerry Welbach (Pitt), a somewhat less than astute young fellow in thrall to a criminal currently incarcerated, is given a seemingly simply assignment: He is to go to Mexico, where he will rendezvous at a bar in a small town, at which time he will take possession of an invaluable hand-made pistol; he will then transport the item to the States and deliver it to his boss. But there's a problem; his girlfriend, Samantha (Roberts) expects to go to Las Vegas at the same time, and their plans were already made and set in stone. So what is a guy to do? After Sam throws him out of their apartment and Jerry tries to explain-- in a memorable scene with her on the second story balcony, he on the ground looking up-- that if he doesn't do this job they will, well, KILL him, it doesn't make any difference. After all, their trip to Vegas had already been planned, and he promised it would happen. Talk about a guy between a rock and a hard place. And it's only the beginning of a dark comedy of errors and circumstances that ultimately involves them with some double dealings and brings them into contact with a psychotic killer named Leroy (James Gandolfini). Director Verbinski lends a nice touch to the movie, eliciting noteworthy performances from his actors and establishing early on his method of using specific landmarks-- a traffic signal and a cross-roads in the middle of nowhere, for example-- that give context and definition to what is happening, sometimes off-screen (as in the opening scene, when you only `hear' a traffic accident that becomes a pivotal part of the story). He avoids slapstick and plays up the natural, subtle humor that drives the film. The characters are well drawn and the dialogue is clever and witty (`You Forrest Gumped' your way through this...') and often very droll. And he maintains a pace and develops an atmosphere in which the unexpected can be expected that keeps it all moving along nicely and right on track. And there's a politically incorrect sensibility to the movie that is refreshing to see; in real life certain situations and cultures that are foreign to us are often viewed in stereotypical terms, so there is no reason to portray it otherwise in a film, especially when care has been taken to present it in an inoffensive manner, as it is here. Taking on a decidedly unglamorous role, Roberts nevertheless creates a lively character with Sam, imbuing her with plenty of spunk and, of course, that trademark smile. It's not a part that calls for a lot of depth, but she makes Sam likable and fun to watch, and she makes her banter with Jerry and Leroy credible and engaging. Credit goes to Pitt, as well, for making the most of what is actually a leading man/character role; Jerry isn't the sharpest tool in the shed and he may be easily distracted, but-- like Sam-- he's not without some natural charm that makes him quite personable and interesting. And there is a chemistry between the two that makes their relationship believable, especially when the sparks are flying. Gandolfini, meanwhile, not to be outdone by his charismatic co-stars, makes an indelible mark as the sensitive, psychotic killer who turns out to be something of an enigma. The supporting cast includes Bob Balaban (Nalin), David Krumholtz (Beck), Luis Felipe Tovar (Luis) and Gene Hackman (Margolis). A lively romp that takes some unexpected turns, `The Mexican' has a dark side, but manages to remain uplifting and thoroughly entertaining. There's a natural flow to the film and the laughs, generated by both the situations and the characters, are never forced but prompted, rather, by the spontaneity of it all. It's a movie that never pretends to be anything other than what it is, which is pure entertainment. It'll leave you with a smile on your face, some chuckles and some great lines to quote. And that, my friends, is the magic of the movies. I rate this one 8/10.