Force of Nature

★★

There’s a whole helluva lot that’s problematic about “Force of Nature,” which is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD.

Let’s start with leading men Emile Hirsch and Mel Gibson. Hirsch choked Paramount executive Daniele Bernfield to the point of unconsciousness at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Gibson let loose with an anti-Semitic and sexist rant while being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving back in 2006. In 2010 Gibson was recorded dropping racial slurs while threatening then-girlfriend and mother to one of his nine children, Oksana Grigorieva. She also claims he physically attacked her in a drunken rage. Just last week news circulated that Gibson called actress Winona Ryder an “oven dodger” and made homophobic remarks to her friend, make-up artist Kevyn Aucoin, at a party back in the ‘90s.

Additionally, “Force of Nature” takes place in San Juan, Puerto Rico during a hurricane. I suppose it’s good that the filmmakers actually shot in Puerto Rico – infusing the U.S. territory with spending and jobs – but the production’s insensitivity is palpable. The primary heroes are all white and none of them speak Spanish. Hirsch’s cop character, Cardillo, is initially as apt to help the Puerto Rican people as Donald Trump was when he showed up after Hurricane Maria with rolls of paper towel and a shoddy jump shot. The flick didn’t have to take place in Puerto Rico and a hurricane wasn’t central to its conceit. Preying upon the territory’s recent misfortunes to goose B-movie schlock seems cheap and careless.

Lastly, the film’s sole black character, Griffin (Will Catlett), moved to San Juan after having been a victim of police brutality back in the continental United States. We’re introduced to Griffin during a scene in a grocery store where he’s attempting to buy 100 pounds of meat. Another patron is angered by Griffin’s purchase, flags down a security guard and lobs a false accusation at the black man. The patron is weaponizing his race against Griffin and the movie has no qualms with this.

The 100 pounds of meat was meant for Griffin’s pet tiger, Janet, who he’s trained to attack cops. (Holy foreshadowing, Joe Exotic!) In contrast to his actions, Griffin appears to feel guilt over living off “blood money.” “Force of Nature” seems be suggesting that Griffin’s guilt is justified, police brutality is fake news and his compensation was unwarranted. These sentiments are hammered home when Cardillo suggests to his rookie partner, Jess (Peruvian singer/songwriter and actress Stephanie Cayo, making her English language debut), that doing the right thing ultimately leads to gripes from ungrateful citizens, which will stifle your career ambitions. Gibson’s character, Ray, a former cop, further amplifies these sentiments, “The current PD’s full of pussies that care more about liabilities and politics.” These sentiments were outdated in the ‘80s action movies from whence they came … in 2020 they’re downright dangerous.

Grievances aside, “Force of Nature” focuses on Cardillo, a suicidal cop who screws off to Puerto Rico after having accidentally shot and killed a woman in New York City. (An early scene depicts Cardillo sitting in a bathtub with a gun in his mouth … Hirsch kinda feels like a baby version of Gibson’s Martin Riggs.) Cardillo and Jess are tasked with evacuating hangers-on when a hurricane’s about to hit. They eventually wind up at an apartment building housing Griffin and Ray. Other denizens include Troy (Kate Bosworth), Ray’s doctor daughter, and Bergkamp (Jorge Luis Ramos), an aged German expat who inherited priceless pieces of pilfered art from his Nazi Daddy. These works have drawn the attention of John the Baptist (David Zayas) and his goon squad, who will happily perforate anyone who stands between them and the paintings.

Hirsch and Gibson are both good actors … neither is especially impressive here. Hirsch is bland, which is unfortunate as he was so captivating as a younger actor in Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild.” Gibson comes across like a combination of the OG Mucinex Booger and whatever he thinks an East Coast Jew sounds like. (Problematic as its politics are, Gibson was much better in S. Craig Zahler’s last effort, the far more effective, entertaining and interesting “Dragged Across Concrete.”) Bosworth’s acting is fine, but as per usual she looks like she should eat a sandwich. I dig Zayas from his time on Showtime’s “Dexter,” where he was incredibly likable. He mostly just glowers and shoots people here, and he’s good enough at that I suppose.

“Force of Nature” is written by first-timer Cory Miller (it shows!) and directed by Bosworth’s husband, Michael Polish, who made his bones making indies such as “Twin Falls, Idaho,” “Jackpot” and “Northfork” with his twin brother, Mark. Polish’s career, which started promisingly, has devolved into making teen sex comedies like 2016’s “Hot Bot” and DTV dreck featuring two dudes on cancel culture’s shit list. He and his cinematographer Jayson Crothers (best known for lensing episodes of NBC’s “Chicago Fire”) don’t have a firm grasp on action geography, which is a cardinal sin when it comes to action-thrillers.

As bad as “Force of Nature” is … and it’s pretty effing bad … it’s also sorta entertaining at times. That said, I can’t in good conscience recommend it. You’d be better off watching 1999’s “Forces of Nature,” which also sucks, but at least Sandy Bullock’s cuter than Gibson and Ben Affleck seems like a cooler dude than Hirsch.

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