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Force of Nature (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 10, 2023


Starring Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Mel Gibson, Stephanie Cayo, David Zayas, Tyler Jon Olson, William Catlett, Jasper Polish, Swen Temmel, Rey Hernandez, Jesy McKinney, Blas Sien Diaz, Leslee Emmett, Anil Raman, Sebastian Vázquez, Thomas Curran, Julio Ramos Velez, Joksan Ramos, Raymond Joel Oliveras and Jose L. Roman.

Screenplay by Cory Miller.

Directed by Michael Polish.

Distributed by Lionsgate. 91 minutes. Rated R.

In the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico in 2017, it certainly seems a bit insensitive to use a Puerto Rican hurricane as the backdrop of a slightly cheesy heist movie.

This is kind of a shame; Force of Nature is kind of good – at least it has its moments – but it is hard to watch without having flashbacks to the desperation on the island just three years ago. In fact, throughout the film I was wondering if this story was supposed to be taking place during Maria. (The film never says one way or the other, so I assume it is supposed to be another fictional tropical storm.)

The film takes place almost completely in a single rundown apartment complex, so while the storm does isolate the action, it is not the cause of the action, nor does the film look at what else is going on in the area. The storm is sort of a subplot, a bogeyman who lurks in the background but is rarely a catalyst of what is happening. It makes it more difficult to escape the situation, but it is not the situation.

Which, again, makes the use of a hurricane in a place that so recently was devastated by a similar storm feel a little tone deaf, to say the least. There must have been another way to isolate these characters – a mix of cops, criminals, and innocent bystanders in the middle of a deadly standoff in search of some mysterious treasure – without picking up the emotional baggage of Hurricane Maria.

But okay, let’s give Force of Nature the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps (in fact, probably) the script was written, and the film was in process before Hurricane Maria. Divorcing the film from a natural disaster that was not of its making, does Force of Nature work as an adventure movie?

Umm, kind of. Sometimes. You’d be very hard-pressed to call Force of Nature a good film even without considering the storm in the background, but as action adventures go, it delivers the goods, at least sometimes.

Essentially it is a crossroads film – good and evil just happen to be at the same place at the same time and must battle it out in a fight to the death.

Good are the cops. The main cop is Cardillo (played by Emile Hirsch, where has he been?), a former New York hero cop who has somehow ended up in San Juan and become completely jaded due to some mysterious past tragic occurrence during an arrest. (Information on what happened is doled slowly out through the film.)

He is partnered up with a fresh-faced and enthusiastic rookie cop named Pina. Peruvian actress, model and singer Stephanie Cayo, making her English-language film debut in the role, is the most pleasant surprise in Force of Nature, making her potentially one-note character smart, funny, quirky and by far the most likable character in the film.

They are in the apartment complex because a guy they arrested begged them to allow him to feed his pet. (It doesn’t make much sense that they’d agree to it, but it does open the door to the story.) Once there they find that even though the island is being evacuated, there are some residents who refuse to leave. Among the people in the building are a terminally ill former cop played by Mel Gibson (yes, his career has come down to this…), his daughter who is a doctor and begging her dad to leave (Kate Bosworth) and a mysterious older man who seems to have some secrets.

There is also a group of criminals, led by the colorfully-monikered John the Baptist (David Zayas of Dexter), who are determined to make it into the mysterious older man’s apartment due to some mysterious bounty on the other side of the multi-locked door. (There seem to be lots of multi-locked doors in this complex.) John is quickly shown to be a blood-thirsty sociopath – he shoots the landlord, a woman and even one of his own men due to mild annoyances – and he is determined to kill anyone or everyone in the building while using the storm as a distraction for his criminal acts.

And that is pretty much it, the good guys hide and try to trap the bad guys and the bad guys go on a killing spree looking for treasure. And if you don’t see the eventual climax repeatedly advance telegraphed in a series of earlier scenes, then you just aren’t paying attention.

Like I said, not good, not bad, but it is a reasonable adventure story. It would be more enjoyable if it didn’t have the tragic baggage of real life, though.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: June 30, 2020.

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