Inspired by true events, The Mule follows financially-strapped nonagenarian Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) as he agrees to transport money and drugs across state lines for a vicious Mexican cartel – with the initial ease with which Earl is able to complete the work eventually threatened by an ambitious DEA agent (Bradley Cooper’s Colin Bates) hot on his trail. Filmmaker Eastwood, working from a script by Nick Schenk, delivers a typically lackadaisical narrative that doesn’t boast much in the way of momentum or standout sequences, and yet the movie remains perfectly watchable for the duration of its decidedly overlong running time of 116 minutes – with The Mule, in the end, benefiting substantially from its myriad of above-average performances and a storyline that’s often inherently engrossing. The erratic atmosphere is perpetuated by an ongoing emphasis on oddball digressions and character moments, with Eastwood’s character, for example, subjected to a series of interludes that run the gamut from eye-rollingly hokey (eg Earl learns not to call black people “negroes”) to the astonishingly ill-conceived (eg Earl participates in not one but two threesomes!) The Mule is ultimately a fairly minor and forgettable endeavor from an impressively prolific filmmaker, with the movie, for the most part, often more successful as an actor’s showcase than as a fully-fleshed-out cinematic experience.
*** out of ****