'Force of Nature': Film Review

Force of Nature Still 2 - Mel Gibson- Publicity -H 2020
Courtesy of Lionsgate
'Die Hard' meets 'Twister' meets 'The Goldfinch,' or something.

Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth and Mel Gibson tangle with a gang of violent thieves trying to pull off an art heist during a hurricane in Michael Polish's action thriller set in Puerto Rico.

The devastation unleashed on Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria in 2017 caused almost 3,000 fatalities, the loss of 80 percent of the territory's agriculture, prolonged power and water outages and a difficult economic recovery that remains ongoing. Then there was the appalling spectacle of Donald Trump tossing paper towels into a crowd of San Juan citizens in a bizarre interpretation of presidential compassion just a month after the disaster. Haven't our stateless Caribbean compatriots suffered enough? Apparently not, according to the big oafish lummox of an action thriller, Force of Nature.

In this thoroughly unnecessary Lionsgate release, a skeevy bunch of locals decide that a Category 5 storm with 160 mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains is a good time to attempt a $55 million art heist. The reasons for that rash scheduling are never quite explained so let's just assume they did it because there wouldn't have been a movie otherwise. What they didn't count on, however, was a trio of white saviors (plus one Latina cop who's mostly along for the ride), including Mel Gibson playing a grizzlier version of his loose-cannon wiseacre from Lethal Weapon, Martin Riggs.

Michael Polish (Big Sur, Amnesiac) directs with his foot nailed to the accelerator, but all the manic energy in the world can't stave off the boredom of Cory Miller's script, which is a deadly combination of convoluted and thin.

After a quick preview of apocalyptic thunder and lightning accompanied by dire warnings of mudslides, flash-flooding and storm surges, the action rewinds to eight hours earlier. But from the hyperactivity of Jayson Crothers' camera, you'd be forgiven for thinking the weather was already raising hell. While Kubilay Uner's portentous score slathers on the drama, the visuals dart about from Condado beachfronts to luxury high-rises, from rich neighborhoods to poor. Just 5 minutes in, I already felt nauseous from all the crazy zooms and whip pans.

A bad hombre who goes by John the Baptist (David Zayas) casually pops a bullet in a well-heeled matron along with one of his own goons after removing what appears to be a rolled-up Picasso from the woman's safe deposit box. Meanwhile, across town, Cardillo (Emile Hirsch), a cop we later learn was demoted from detective after a fatal misjudgment, is contemplating suicide in the bathtub. We know that because he sticks a gun in his mouth then thinks better of it. At the precinct, he gets partnered with Jess Peña (Stephanie Cayo) and put on evacuation duty to remove holdouts to safety.

They pick up local resident Griffin (Will Catlett) after an altercation at a market where he's attempting to buy 100 pounds of meat for his pet, a savage beast of some unidentified species that gets testy when she's not fed. (Plot point alert!) They make a detour stop at Griffin's apartment block, which turns out to be a less swanky Nakatomi Plaza, with tighter hallways and courtyards to cramp the action.

Cardillo — did someone think that by giving Hirsch a Hispanic surname people might not notice all the leads are white? — soon gets sidetracked helping exasperated doctor Troy (Kate Bosworth) budge her recalcitrant retired cop father Ray (Gibson). He's on dialysis and needs to be moved to a hospital, but Ray is a feisty old tiger, so he pops a couple more Oxys and insists on toughing it out. The storm keeps surging even if the tension doesn't as Cardillo and Troy then try to evacuate Bergkamp (Jorge Luis Ramos), a German senior who may or may not be a former Nazi. The heavy security protecting his apartment suggests mucho loot inside, which explains the attraction for John the Baptist and his thugs.

They bring along plenty of firepower but Ray also has access to a full arsenal of weaponry. With the building under siege, a series of shoot-outs and fights ensue, all choreographed in a blur beneath the deluge of rain and the agitated camerawork. Not one of the action sequences packs any punch, partly because there's been virtually no character development; most of the casualties barely merit names. In one of the more laughable moments, a character is spared a bullet to the brain when the eye of the storm conveniently passes over.

While Gibson is the center of Lionsgate's marketing, he's very much a supporting player, phoning in a performance we've seen from him countless times before with better dialogue. Ray is a smug old goat we're meant to find amusingly irascible. Meh. This is not the movie that's going to get Gibson uncanceled.

Though Hirsch has been compelling in films like Into the Wild, he makes an uncharismatic lead here. Cardillo starts out surly and bitter, but whenever he has a quiet moment with Troy, the tender reprieve in Uner's otherwise hyperventilating score signals romance and healing. She's a medic, so makes sense! Bosworth has nothing interesting to play, though she does get a strange speech about Ray bringing home loads of frozen turkeys at Thanksgiving to use as target practice, which explains why she's both a crack shot and a surgeon, given the time she spent as a kid extracting bullets from poultry. No, really.

There's a potentially topical moment where African American Griffin explains that he moved to Puerto Rico after experiencing police brutality, but nothing here is sufficiently grounded in character or authentic emotion to resonate. As for Zayas, let's just say John the Baptist is no Hans Gruber, even if he does know his Vermeers. I wondered if his name was a tipoff to an eventual decapitation, but the inane script doesn't have that much wit.

San Juan looks handsome in the opening scenes, but thereafter gets dumped on, in more ways than one. For all its sound and fury, Force of Nature is a wet mishmash of elements from better movies that leaves scarcely a ripple in its wake.

Production companies: Emmett Furla Oasis Films, The Pimienta Film Co., in association with River Bay Films, SSS Entertainment, Way Down East Entertainment
Distributor: Lionsgate (VOD)
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Mel Gibson, David Zayas, Stephanie Cayo, Will Catlett, Sven Temmel, Tyler Jon Olson, Jorge Luis Ramos
Director: Michael Polish
Screenwriter: Cory Miller
Producers: Randall Emmett, George Furla, Shaun Sanghani, Mark Stewart, Luillo Ruiz
Executive producers: Walter Josten, Luis Riefkohl, Brandon Powers, Landon Gorman, Ted Fox, Lee Broda, Christian Mercuri, Alastair Burlingham, Gary Raskin, Paul Weinberg, Charlie Dombek, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertrieb, Cyril Megret, Bobby Ranghelov, Diana Principe, Alex Eckert, Tim Sullivan, Caesar Richbow, Jonathan Baker
Director of photography: Jayson Crothers
Production designer: Mailara Santana Pomales
Costume designer: Ana C. RamirezVelez
Music: Kubilay Uner
Editors: Paul Buhl, Raúl Marchand Sánchez
Casting: Sheila Jaffe, Bryan Riley, Zoraida Sanjurjo López

Rated R, 91 minutes