FILM REVIEW – FORCE OF NATURE. With Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Mel Gibson, Stephanie Cayo, David Zayas. Written by Cory Miller. Directed by Michael Polish. Rated R for violence and pervasive language. 91 minutes.
Shitbird on a wire
The other night we were flipping channels and my sister’s kids made me watch some of “Daddy’s Home 2,” which I’d avoided in theaters for myriad reasons and yet I must confess to finding myself fascinated by how this cloying Christmas comedy was constantly disrupted by the ugly energy of Mel Gibson being a seething, miserable fuck. (There’s a throwaway line in which he says he wishes Will Ferrell were dead and Mad Mel seems to really, really mean it. So happy holidays, I guess?) After all we’ve seen and know about Gibson it feels gross watching him yuk it up in a family film, yet in recent years that bristling, unpleasant aura and all his attendant baggage have been put to excellent use playing broken, violent men in recent low-budget thrillers like “Blood Father,” “Dragged Across Concrete” and the new FORCE OF NATURE.
While not up to the level of those other two (very good) pictures, this one’s fairly standard DTV fare—if that descriptor still has any meaning now that every movie goes direct to video. Emile Hirsch stars in what 30 years ago would have been the Gibson role, as a surly, booze-bloated cop hunted by a tragic backstory, even introduced to us in a Martin Riggs homage sitting at home alone with a gun in his mouth. Despite having recently relocated to Puerto Rico he stubbornly refuses to learn Spanish, making life even more difficult for his rookie partner (Stephanie Cayo) as they’re assigned to evacuate stragglers still hanging around in a San Juan apartment building as the city’s about to be rocked by a Category 5.
I’m not sure who thought it was a bright idea to make a trashy thriller set in Puerto Rico during a hurricane, and the abundance of Anglo characters suggests it was probably written for Florida in the first place. But in any event, there are a bunch of eccentrics left in this colorful complex refusing to budge, including a guy who keeps a tiger in his spare bedroom, an elderly German with a curiously sophisticated security system, and best of all—Gibson’s crotchety old retired cop, who much to the consternation of his doctor daughter (Kate Bosworth) intends to ride out the storm in his recliner. Boasting a Noo Yawk accent even more outsized than his prosthetic pot belly, Gibson’s emphysematic, pistol-packin’ Archie Bunker is by far the best thing about the film, which becomes increasingly more ridiculous as the building is swarmed by a tactical team of bland baddies packing military-grade weaponry, looking for paintings stolen by the Nazis during WWII.
Director Michael Polish—who with his brother Mark had some success during the early 2000s indie boom doing David Lynch knockoffs like “Twin Falls Idaho” and “Northfork”—keeps things moving along efficiently and anonymously enough, though one wishes the filmmaker had indulged more of his flair for the absurd, given the inherent silliness of the proceedings. Still, I’m a sucker for Hirsch’s off-brand Leonardo DiCaprio routine, and he’s got some good chemistry with Bosworth, whom I always figured would’ve had a bigger career. But it’s Gibson who’s really on the right wavelength here, coughing up blood and chunks of scenery while popping Oxys, cursing his colitis and trying to give a performance larger than the hurricane itself.
While you’re waiting for the jungle cat equivalent of Chekov’s gun to go off in the third act, just don’t ask too many questions about how all this priceless Nazi art wound up in a junky San Juan apartment, or for that matter how a Vermeer swiped from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 was apparently also stolen during WWII. And yet despite (or perhaps because of) these perplexities, “Force Of Nature” is a fairly watchable way to kill a rainy afternoon.•••
Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality