Force of Nature
MA15+, 99 minutes, two stars
In the US, this undistinguished action movie went straight to DVD and digital platforms but for some reason it's getting a theatrical release in Australia. Either the cinemas are desperate for product or someone thinks Mel Gibson is still a big enough name here to draw an audience.
What we have here is another variation on the durable "good guy(s) trapped in confined location up against ruthless bad guys" formula seen in Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Speed, Air Force One and other action movies. Force of Nature, unfortunately, exploits too many cliches, both of this subgenre and movies in general, to be anything more than a so-so time-filler for a rainy afternoon. Apparently Gibson replaced Bruce Willis, which probably was for the best: audiences would have been reminded how much better Die Hard was.
We have two prologues: one is a flash-forward in 1980s TV-show style ("Tonight, on Force of Nature") of Gibson shooting, as if to reassure fans that yes, he's here and he's packing heat. The other shows a criminal gang in action emphasising their bloodthirsty ruthlessness. They're led by a guy who calls himself John the Baptist (don't ask me).
The gimmick here is that the main action takes place in a San Juan apartment building during the Category 5 Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Cardillo (Emile Hirsch), a cop in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is so apathetic he hasn't even bothered to learn Spanish, which would come in handy in his new environment. We learn he suffered a personal tragedy in New York that left him broken and cynical.
On the day of the hurricane, Cardillo is sent out with young, enthusiastic colleague Pena (Stephanie Cayo) to help move residents from an apartment complex to shelters. Among the people there are ailing former cop Ray (Gibson) who doesn't want to go, knowing he will end up helpless in hospital, and his doctor daughter Troy Barrett (Kate Bosworth).
Also in the complex are elderly German Paul (Jorge Luis Ramos) - whom people presume must have been a Nazi, because, well, he's German and old (but not that old) and Griffin (Will Catlett), whom they encountered earlier, who just so happens to have a mysterious, very large, very hungry locked-up pet (call it Chekhov's Cat).
But in addition to the weather and Ray's stubbornness, another problem arises. The gang led by John the Baptist (David Zayas) has come into the apartment in search of something. We eventually find out what, but the whole subplot seems a bit undercooked.
Gibson is in the "manic Mel" mode that has characterised in a lot of his work since at least the Lethal Weapon series. He's not in the movie all that long but his role is a significant one. The film industry still seems to be treading a bit gingerly when it comes to Gibson after some well-publicised incidents some years back, though Hacksaw Ridge, which he directed, was well received. He isn't the lead here, though. Instead we have another actor who had a fall from grace, Emile Hirsch, who was excellent in Into the Wild. Hirsch looks a bit young for the troubled cop: he doesn't really convey angst. The other cast members do what they can with their thin characters.
This is the first feature credit for writer Cory Miller, whose main professional credit was being assistant camera and assistant director on the web series Lonely Lil. The director, Michael Polish - married to Bosworth - is better established: he's probably best known for the offbeat films he made with his twin brother Mark, starting with Twin Falls Idaho in 1999.
Force of Nature seems to be a stab at mainstream success for Polish and Miller but while the moderately budgeted film is competently made, it's neither thrilling nor involving enough to be more than routine.