Mel Gibson: the most controversial man in Hollywood? Quite possibly.

The rub is that Gibson has a great CV, with Braveheart, Signs, Mad Max, The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto marking him out as a very talented actor and director.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation is Gibson's latest attempt to revive his career and put himself back in the press for the right reasons.

The film opens with Gibson fleeing through the US desert. He is involved in a high-speed car chase dressed as a clown and is making for the Mexican border with a dying partner in crime and a couple of million dollars in cash lying on the back seat. The getaway goes south [sic] and Gibson ends up in the notorious Mexican prison El Pueblito, with some bent cops giving his cash a new home.

El Pueblito is a prison like no other, with families allowed to live with inmates, items of all kinds being sold, and even a VIP section with a bar and casino. It's life behind bars with a twist. But the brutality of any prison, and then some more, is present too.

Gibson's character, as a white man, stands out like a sore thumb and he must live on his wits to survive. This survival becomes intertwined with a 10-year-old boy's (Hernandez) life - a boy who is protected by the mafia don of the prison for a very special reason.

Technically, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is a treat. Beautiful ochre-toned cinematography, accompanied by deft and delicate editing, allied to a superb tequila-soaked score make it a beautiful watch. Life in the prison is also superbly depicted as a world nobody would ever want to visit.

Plot-wise, the movie depends on Gibson's survival being of paramount importance to the audience and the actor manages to make a likeable rogue of the lead character, who has a devil-may-care attitude which draws viewers in.

It's the sub-plot that is the clever hook of the movie, as Gibson's 10-year-old accomplice becomes involved in a difficult revenge mission, upon which his own life depends.

When the movie makes this switch from straight-out prison movie to revenge film, it comes into its own and allows the cast to get their teeth into something broader.

Add in a love story, oodles of violence and some class division and things start to form a cohesive package.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation makes a very good stab at originality, and its engaging cast - and at times rapier script - make for decent viewing. However, too many moments of cliché prevent it from being a success on all levels.

Tadhg Peavoy