Old-school action hallmarks are widely celebrated staples of the 1980s, with swaggering action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone ushering in a new era of dopey, yet outlandishly compelling thrill rides. While the genre still thrives today (Extraction was a standout), some of its tendencies, including troubling racial dynamics and a heaping of woefully machismo dialogue, have begun to show their age. With the latest low-rent actioner Force of Nature, director Michael Polish’s lackluster pursuit of cheap thrills highlights the genre’s problematic ingredients.
Set in Puerto Rico in the midst of a hurricane, Force of Nature follows Cardillo (Emile Hirsch), a disgraced cop who is tasked with evacuating a local apartment complex with his new partner Jess (Stephanie Cayo). While trying to get the tenets to leave, including a jaded old-school cop (Mel Gibson), his protective daughter (Kate Bosworth), and a man housing a mysterious creature (Will Catlett), a team of thieves break into the complex to find a priceless artifact.
During the Force of Nature’s tightly-packed 91-minute runtime, there are glimmers of shameless genre entertainment to be embraced. Between the preposterous high-concept premise and the looming McGuffins present throughout the narrative (the impending storm and the enigmatic creature), Cory Miller’s screenplay offers an irresistible concoction of gratifying genre wrinkles that manage to keep audiences semi-engaged.
The supporting cast also helps to liven up the proceedings, with Will Catlett mining much-needed humor from his standard-issue role. David Zayas elevates his archetype villain with menacing screen presence and slick bravado, while Kate Bosworth and Stephanie Cayo hold their own in severely under-written parts (Bosworth’s involvement can only be explained by her marriage to Polish).
None of these flashes can overcome the film’s bankrupt design. Despite having a decent-sized budget to work with, Michael Polish directs this project on autopilot, with conventionally-constructed shots ranging from dull to laughably incompetent (hilariously utilizes archived shaky cam hurricane footage). This concept offers opportunities to implement creatively constructed action set pieces, but there’s little ingenuity to be found in these standard-issue gunfights. While the project’s sheen of cheapness could be endearing in a B-movie way, Polish isn’t able to push the envelope enough to embrace its wacky roots.
In its attempts to feel like an old-school throwback, Force of Nature comes off as painfully tone-deaf. Alongside the casting of two problematic leads (Hirsch’s portrayal as a mean-spirited cop lacks the charisma to mask the poorly-timed role), Miller’s screenplay encompasses every dated cliche in the book. A hero with a white savior complex? Check. Female leads who are painted as strong, yet end up as damsels in distress? Check. Mel Gibson playing a dated chauvinist whose suppose to “charm” with his gruff attitude (you can guess the answer to that one)? All of these elements are blended with the film’s bizarre utilization of its Puerto Rico setting, as Miller’s shallow attempt to be topical feels insensitive considering the recency of Hurricane Maria.
Lacking an original bone and creative craftsmanship, The Force of Nature goes through the motions in its tasteless embrace of dated genre conventions.
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