By James Lindorf Review below and below that interview.
“Force of Nature” the latest film from Director Michael Polish (The Astronaut Farmer) and Writer Cory Miller (The Long Walk Home) stars Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Stephanie Cayo, David Zayas, and Mel Gibson. In a throwback to 80s action films, a disgraced cop Cardillo (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild) is forced to partner with young go-getter Pena (Stephanie Cayo, Club de Cuervos). Their first task, to search the evacuation zone for stragglers before a massive hurricane hits San Juan Puerto Rico. Things were going easy until they came to an apartment building that is home to an eclectic group. Most notably, exotic pet owner Griffin (as Will Catlett), a reclusive older man (Jorge Luis Ramos, Captain Ron), a frustrated Dr. Troy (Kate Bosworth, Superman Returns), and her stubborn retired detective father, Ray (Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon). The reluctant evacuees are troublesome enough, but when a murderous gang of thieves arrives to rob a wealthy tenant. Cardillo, Pena, and the tenants must join forces to battle the criminals if they want any hope of escaping. “Force of Nature” makes landfall through Blu-ray, DVD, Digital and On-Demand on June 30 from Lionsgate.
It was hard to decide where to begin when it comes to discussing “Force of Nature.” Should I talk about the quality of the film and if it’s successful in what it wanted to be? Or, do I discuss the potential pitfalls made during the production of the movie? There are three significant elements in the film that people may find upsetting.
First is the setting. Creating an action film set in inclement weather isn’t unique; this isn’t even the first film to use a hurricane. “Crawl” was released last year and “The Hurrican Heist” just two years ago. The potential landmine is that setting the film in Puerto Rico has an air of insensitivity concerning the horrors the island faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The influx of money the movie brought to the local economy is a great thing. Still, money can’t bring back the loved ones lost to the storm, and being reminded of that could be very traumatic. They could have had the best of both worlds by filming in San Juan to help the local economy but saying the story took place in Florida or Venezuela. Taking place in San Juan does not impact the plot in any way. It will serve as an unnecessary distraction, if not worse, for some viewers.
The second snare the film could step into is related to policing. Cardillo has a history of using his weapon with deadly results and unintended consequences. He is a white man from outside the community where most people speak Spanish, and he is aggressively ignorant of the language. Two months ago, this wouldn’t be the issue it is now, and if “Force of Nature” was made in the 80s, there would be a widespread celebration of his character. Times change and the way police use force is currently under the microscope could spell trouble for the movie’s profitability. This issue is further compounded by Cardillo being white and all of the movies bad guys being people of color. The visuals could prove uncomfortable to some and a bridge too far for others. When people seek a break from the violence perpetrated by police currently flooding every level of the media, they are not likely to escape into a film with similar imagery.
The final element that may deter some potential viewers is the presence of Mel Gibson. His sexist and racist history manages to outweigh his substantial filmography for many people. The renewed coverage in response to Wynonna Rider recently bring his alleged comments from the 90’s back into the spotlight has reopened old wounds. Social media is currently full of people questioning makes how hasn’t Mel Gibson been canceled yet. There is no debate about Mel’s ability as an actor and filmmaker; he is a legend. He shows it again here as the grizzled and often obstinate former detective. However, his mere presence, especially on camera, is a weight on any film because it is a nonstarter for many people.
There is a lot that could hold “Force of Nature” back financially. On the flip side of all the negative attention is the curiosity it creates. The articles that will choose one of the three topics I mentioned and use it to tear the film and its creators to shreds will unwittingly send some readers to check out the movie. Some will be looking to defend, and others want to see if it is as harmful or as offensive as they heard.
The last thing is to discuss is what anyone tuning in will see. “Force of Nature” is an excellent attempt at reclaiming the old action standard. It has a rough around the edges protagonist, a lovable partner, quality fight choreography, a great bad guy, and even Nazis, bringing back all the classic 80’s elements. Hirsch, Cayo, and Zayas are excellent as their respective characters and bring the charisma that fuels a good action movie. The problem with emulating something is running the risk of lacking originality, which was unfortunately realized here. There are no genre-bending elements. The dialogue is serviceable, but missing the dynamic one-liners older action films are known and are still being repeated by fans. “Force of Nature” is a fun watch but only has the lasting impact of a summer breeze.