fb-pixel Skip to main content
MOVIE REVIEW

‘Force of Nature’ keeps you watching — and only partly in disbelief (and, yes, that guy with the beard is Mel Gibson)

Mel Gibson (left), Emile Hirsch, and Kate Bosworth in "Force of Nature."Laura T Magruder



For a B-movie action potboiler, “Force of Nature” fits into a startling number of subgenres, each with its own rules of the road. It’s a heist movie and a siege movie and a disaster flick and a cop drama and a romance. Oh, also: It’s a Mel Gibson movie, which these days very much comes with expectations. Newly arriving on streaming services, “Force of Nature” lives up, down, and sideways to all those demands; it’s hardly a great film, but it keeps you watching, and only partly in disbelief.

Gibson’s not the star of the thing, just a crazy-eyed side dish, which tells you a lot about where his career is at the moment. Emile Hirsch has the lead role of Cardillo, a desk cop in San Juan, who’s ordered out on evacuation duty when a Category 5 hurricane hits the island. Along with a rookie partner, Officer Pena (Stephanie Cayo), he heads into a crumbling apartment complex seeking stragglers from the storm — just as a heavily armed crew of robbers moves in to crack a safe in the building’s basement.

Emile Hirsch in "Force of Nature."Laura T Magruder

It’s not clear why “Force of Nature” is set in Puerto Rico, since most of the characters (aside from the villains and Pena) appear to be Anglos from stateside and most of the action is confined to one location. (They don’t get Cat 5s in Florida?) Cardillo is running from a tragedy during his days as a New York policeman; he’s burnt-out and bitter, until he catches sight of Dr. Troy (Kate Bosworth), who’s trying to get her dad, a grizzled ex-cop named Ray (Gibson), to shelter. The arrival of the bad guys, led by a heavy-set mastermind who calls himself John the Baptist (David Zayas), complicates matters, as do a handful of other tenants: Griffin (William Catlett), who has a beef against cops and a mysteriously padlocked bedroom, and an elderly German fellow (Jorge Luis Ramos) who turns out to be not much more than a plot point.

Advertisement



Movies like “Force of Nature” are where talents on the downslope of stardom tend to find themselves; such projects pay the bills and, when approached with professionalism and a sense of fun, can have entertaining results for them and for us. The director is Michael Polish, who with his twin brother Mark made a run of stylish independent films at the turn of the millennium: “Twin Falls, Idaho,” “Northfork,” and others. That “Force of Nature” is anonymously directed by comparison doesn’t mean it’s incompetently made — quite the opposite – and Polish and his cast (including Bosworth, who’s Mrs. Polish) keep the pacing tight and the energy high no matter how silly Cory Miller’s script gets.

Advertisement



And it gets silly. Between the shootouts, fistfights, knife-fights, stairwell confrontations, and that raging typhoon outside, “Force of Nature” already has too much on its plate. It still pauses every so often to let the cop and the doctor make goo-goo eyes at each other — usually while she’s cleaning out a wound — or to speculate about what’s behind that locked door in 63-B, or to drop in on 37-E, where the tenant, a former DEA agent, conveniently left behind an arsenal of guns. One unexpected bonus for Boston-based art lovers: the Gardner Museum heist gets solved!

Emile Hirsch and Kate Bosworth in "Force of Nature."Courtesy Lionsgate

Then there’s Gibson, who looks like happy hell here. Bearded and burly, he squeezes his voice into a guttural Bronx squawk and chews on his lines as though they were beef jerky. Ray is already on his last legs, and Gibson plays the man with such wheezing, foul-mouthed gusto that you half expect him to cough up a lung, or his Oscar for “Braveheart.” It’s a scurrilous, entertaining performance from an actor who doesn’t have anything left to lose.

Advertisement



Similarly, this may not be the best cultural moment for an action drama featuring a heroic and only mildly racist cop. “Force of Nature” plays by the timeless rules of pulp fiction, and only when the eye of the hurricane passes over and an eerie, tense calm takes hold does the movie strike a note of originality. The rest is everything you expect, from people who know better. In the words of John the Baptist as he tsk-tsks Cardillo, “So cliché, so cliché. I figured you were the smart one.”

★★½

FORCE OF NATURE

Directed by Michael Polish. Written by Cory Miller. Starring Emile Hirsch, Mel Gibson, Kate Bosworth, Stephanie Cayo, William Catlett. Available on cable systems and streaming platforms. 91 minutes. R (violence and pervasive language)