FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2018 -- After that experiment in film-making back in February ("The 15:17 to Paris") that featured a bunch of non-actors trying to re-enact the events about themselves, Oscar winning director and iconic actor Clint Eastwood put himself in the lead of his own film; he had been on hiatus from acting since 2012's "Trouble With the Curve" - which was supposed to be his last acting film.


Once again, he grabs the story from the news as he translates a New York Times article The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year Old Drug Mule by Sam Dolnick. It's about a 90 year old man who runs drugs for a Mexican drug cartel - guess who plays the 90-year old!


It reunites him with his star from "American Sniper", Bradley Cooper, who has never acted across from Eastwood. It also reunites hi with his real-life daughter Alison (who appears with him in "Absolute Power", "Space Cowboys" and others). But make no mistake, this is mostly Clint's film

Much like Eastwood's past few roles, he plays a crusty old geezer (see "Space Cowboys", "Unforgiven", "Million Dollar Baby", "Gran Torino"). In fact it reprises many aspects of his roles from those films. This time he is a world class horticulturist who is bankrupt... the internet has killed his business and he is now desperate to save his farm and house from foreclosure.


He's got no one to turn to, his ex-wife (Dianne Weist) nor is daughter (Alison); his granddaughter (played by Taissa Farmiga) offers a sympathetic ear, but has no money. A chance offer sidles up to Earl by way of a highway deal that requires him to load up his old pickup and drive it up the road a hundred miles or so...leave it... return and get the envelop out the glove compartment.


Whoa, there's a fortune in cash in that envelop and after a few runs he realizes that he's working for a Mexican drug lord played by Andy Garcia whose living the high-life. After many successful runs, he even makes sure his underlings don't harass the old-timer.


Meanwhile, DEA agent (Laurence Fishburne) wants results and Colin Bates (Cooper) is the man he wants to find out who is trafficking all this cocaine. So we get the same cat and mouse tale we saw in Robert Redford's "Old Man and the Gun". But in this story Eastwood has himself as a 90-year old carouser having threesomes with 20-somethings. But it all adds to the entertainment value.


In the end, we sit back hoping that Eastwood will do what he really needs to do for a swansong... a western.


"The Mule" is a major step up from Eastwood's last film and will find him saving some grace. It will suffice for his fans and possibly make a little Christmas cash.   -- GRADE C+ --   GEOFF BURTON