A film review by Craig J. Koban July 13, 2020

FORCE OF NATURE j

2020, R, 91 mins.

Mel Gibson as Ray  /  Emile Hirsch as Cardillo  /  Kate Bosworth as Troy  /  David Zayas as John the Baptist  /  Stephanie Cayo as Jess  /  Tyler Jon Olson as Dillon  /  Rey Hernandez as Lt. Cunningham

Directed by Michael Polish  /  Written by Cory Miller

Not to be confused with the late 90s Sandra Bullock/Ben Affleck romcom of nearly the same name, FORCE OF NATURE is a new action film of startling, almost mind numbing blandness.  Very few genre films like this are a sure-fire cure insomnia...but this one fits the bill.

The $23 million dollar, shot on location production has a premise as basic as it gets (a series of dwellers try to evacuate a Puerto Rico apartment building during a Category 5 hurricane while nefarious criminals also wreak havoc on the inside) and bares some similarities to the equally awful THE HURRICANE HEIST.  Beyond its nonsensically silly scripting, some awfully phoned in performances, and a lack of creative ingenuity, what really makes FORCES OF NATURE all the more thoroughly unwatchable is that it sets itself during the real life Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 5000 people.  Exploiting real life tragedy for a B-grade piece of cheaply made exploitation fare like this is deplorable enough, but then the film adds on some wholly unsavory white savior elements to the narrative (more on that in a bit) to sour things further.    

The fact that FORCE OF NATURE was made with one extremely well known Hollywood icon and a few more washed up, but also established actors is kind of shocking in itself.  It's the kind of bad film where the thought of watching a documentary about the thought processes of the players involved in deciding to partake in this production would have been more engaging the resulting film itself.  Here's what you need to know:  Real life Hurricane Maria is about to dump itself in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but before it ravages on the city a down on his luck and deeply suicidal cop named Cardillo (played in one of his least convincing performances by an all over the map Emile Hirsch) has been re-assigned from routine desk duties and is ordered to help evacuate some local homes in a timely and safe manor (yes, this piece of retrograde garbage introduces us to Hirsch's "hero cop" as he tries to blow his brains out in his bathtub).  Cardillo is teamed up with a young rookie super cop in the making in Pena (Stephanie Cayo), and soon the pair are sent to a nearby apartment building that's close to flooding in hopes of getting all of those that are still stuck inside to get out as quickly as possible. 

 

 

Unfortunately for Cardillo and Pena, they both meet up with a cranky old coot ex-cop named Ray (Mel Gibson), who's been sidelined with multiple health issues and has all but turns away medical aid from his nurse/daughter, Troy (a never more tired and disinterested looking Kate Bosworth), which frustrates her to no end (that, and the cantankerous former law man refuses to leave his home).  Faster than you can scream "MAD MAX," everyone is dealt up an even greater threat than the rampaging hurricane outside with the appearance of vile gangster John the Baptist (David Zayas), who has appeared with his machine gun touting crew to search for a secret hidden piece of treasure that resides within...and he's willing to murder just about anyone that gets in his way.  Predictably, this springs Cardillo and Pena into action, and even more predictably...and wouldn't ya know it...that wild eyed old codger in Ray can still shoot a gun with the best of them, despite his horrendous state of health.  I mean...he's Mel Gibson, after all. 

One of the more frustratingly lazy things that director Michael Polish and writer Cory Miller do with this cockamamie script is starting it in the future and then flashing back to the past.  How many more films am I going to have to endure that use this tired plotting device?  In this flashforward we witness Cardillo violently grappling with a baddie outside of the aforementioned apartment as monstrous rain and wind beats down on both of them.  We also see Ray packing serious heat and trying to shoot said bad guy in the process (good luck with that in near zero visibility).  After this, the film jumps back several hours to introduce us to all of the players on both sides of the law before the storm hits.  FORCE OF NATURE benefits so little from using this framing device that you have to wonder why Polish used it in the first place.  Not helping matters is the inclusion of some frankly head shaking and inane subplots, like one involving an apartment dweller (William Catlett), who early in the film is arrested for hoarding ridiculous amounts of meat at a supply strapped grocery store.  We later find out that he was buying the meat for his "pet," and by "pet" I mean a vicious wild animal that could kill a man in seconds.  Why this has been thrown into this film is anyone's guess. 

The writing in FORCE OF NATURE is about as clumsy and amateurish as it gets, so much so that all we're really left with are the performances and the action set pieces, both of which are laughably lacking.  Hirsch is never once credible as a Martin Riggs-like man of the law with impulse control issues and a desire to end his life.  He's a strong actor when compelled to be, but a hard nosed cop role doesn't fit him like a glove.  Both Kate Bosworth fares no better, as she frequently looks like she would rather be in a whole other movie throughout most of this one.  The development of the main villain here is feebly handled, and John the Baptist certainly is a physically imposing presence thanks to Zayas, but he's so ill defined in terms of who he is, where he came from, and why he's looking for that prized treasure in the apartment.  He's a one-note heist planning monster...and not much else.  And as for Gibson?  He's really the only reason to watch this film on a level of pure curiosity, and he seems to be the only performer here injecting some personality into role. 

Still, Gibson's and Hirsch's involvement here is one of the biggest sins of FORCE OF NATURE.  Here's a film set in a foreign land featuring good guy white cops that are called to save the day against villains of color...and all set during a fact based environmental disaster that decimated a country and killed so many countless innocent people.  I looked it up: 4645 Puerto Ricans died at the hands of Hurricane Maria.  Those that didn't die went without food, water, electricity, and other basic necessities for months.  The very thought of a Hollywood crew swooping into this same country to make such an utterly disposable piece of brainless, retrograde trash like this while using Hurricane Maria as a storyline backdrop is, in my humble opinion, of dubious low taste and decency.  Added on to this sickening level of exploitation is the appearance of Gibson as the Caucasian protagonist cop that tries to rescue and save everyone from despotic Islanders.  Considering his own well publicized history with accused racism, his casting here sticks out like a sore thumb and exacerbates all that's wrong with the film.  You know what might have made FORCE OF NATURE more redeeming and interesting?  Make Gibson and Hirsch the villains and the Puerto Rican characters the heroes.  How hard would that have been? 

Outside of this film being offensive to what I believe will be many, FORCE OF NATURE commits another indefensible misdeed of being crushingly dull.  Polish has some fun with the various fist fights, gun battles, and foot chases here and there, but he seems hopelessly lost when it comes to basic spatial geography at times (that, and these moments are punctuated by a criminally stale music score that feels like it was cannibalized and pieced together from dozens of other uninspired scores from direct-to-video fare from yesteryear).  I have nothing against films that try to use minimalist settings (look at the truly exceptional airline thriller 7500 from this past month as to how to do this right), but FORCE OF NATURE is so tired and lifeless in terms of innovation and execution that making it through its mercifully brief 90 minute runtime was a bit of a soul sucking chore for me.  This film was supposed to release in cinemas, and - IRONY ALERT! - a real-life calamity in our current pandemic forced it to VOD.  I paid seven bucks to watch this at home.  That was seven bucks too much for me.  

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