There are so many troubling elements to Force of Nature that it’s tough to know where to begin. Stars Emile Hirsch and Mel Gibson have both behaved reprehensibly (and sometimes illegally) in their offscreen lives for years. The movie’s sympathetically portrayed main characters are cops who disregard the rights and reasonable concerns of everyday citizens at a time when real-life policing is under heavy, justified scrutiny for the same thing. The story takes place in Puerto Rico in the middle of a hurricane, using the same kind of actual natural disaster that devastated the territory during Hurricane Maria as the vehicle for a dumb thriller. These are all valid reasons to skip Force of Nature, but even if you can overlook the uncomfortable real-world implications, all you’re left with is a poorly constructed action movie with weak performances, clunky dialogue, and an incoherent story.
Although Gibson has been prominently featured in the movie’s marketing materials, his role here is closer to the kind of work that Bruce Willis has been churning out in direct-to-VOD thrillers over the past several years, a fairly small supporting part that allows him to coast on star power. Hirsch is the real star, playing Cardillo, a San Juan beat cop with a massive chip on his shoulder who’s been busted down to evacuation duty during the hurricane. He’s resentful of the very people he’s meant to be protecting, refusing to learn a word of Spanish and telling his eager, newly assigned partner Jess (Stephanie Cayo) that it’s not worth bothering to help anyone evacuate, since they’ll just file a frivolous complaint with the department. She has to practically drag him to an apartment building where a couple of residents are refusing to leave, and even then he can’t bring himself to care until a group of armed robbers show up.
Those criminals, led by a cartoonishly ruthless boss known as John the Baptist (David Zayas), are hoping to use the chaos of the hurricane to swipe valuable artwork hidden by one of the building’s residents (a hurricane heist, if you will). John is the kind of movie bad guy who demonstrates his authority by casually killing his underlings, and he brings a bunch of disposable henchmen with him to confront mysterious German Bergkamp (Jorge Luis Ramos), who is somehow in possession of multiple priceless works of art that have been missing for decades. “Are you a Nazi?” fellow trapped resident Griffin (Will Catlett) asks Bergkamp, and it’s a pretty safe bet that if that question is asked, then the answer is yes.
Before they get to Bergkamp, though, Cardillo and Jess have to deal with cranky retired cop Ray (Gibson) and his doctor daughter Troy (Kate Bosworth), who is helping her dad deal with his multitude of illnesses and trying to convince him to leave for a hospital. Ray is the kind of old-school cop who calls newer cops “pussies” for following due process and trying to curb brutal interrogation practices, but of course his shoot-first-ask-questions-never approach comes in handy when the gang of criminals invade the building and start trying to take people out.
Virtually the entire movie takes place inside the cramped, waterlogged building, but rather than make creative use of the space, director Michael Polish just shows characters moving up and down the same staircase over and over, cycling through a handful of similar-looking apartments. The action sequences are choppy and difficult to follow, and it doesn’t help that none of the characters are sufficiently developed for the audience to care about what happens to them. Cardillo gets a supposedly tragic backstory that’s meant to humanize him, but it just further paints him as a grossly irresponsible and reckless cop. And his budding romance with Troy in the middle of both a hurricane and a gun battle is ill-timed and unconvincing.
The performances are as limp and wet as everything else in the storm, with Hirsch and Bosworth coming off like they resent being in the movie, and Gibson using volume to make up for the lackluster dialogue he’s given. In his post-disgrace career, Gibson has leaned into the sleaziness of his persona in enjoyably scuzzy thrillers like Blood Father and S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete, which at least attempt to acknowledge the toll that a life of moral compromise has taken on their characters’ souls. There’s no such complexity to Force of Nature, which is just a quick and cheap collection of shoot-outs and yelling.