In his 1998 review, Roger Ebert called the heist thriller Hard Rain “a documentary about wet actors at work.” This, and not much more, is what Force Of Nature offers as well. The film opens with a fistfight in the rain, two angry men bludgeoning each other while Mel Gibson tries to get a clean shot from the balcony above. A gunshot rings out and the screen goes black, before the film flashes back to the start of the story, hours earlier. Beginning at the end can be a solid narrative strategy, but only if the climax itself is compelling. Here, the fight choreography has all the grace and intensity of Captain Kirk mime-battling the Gorn on the original Star Trek. Not a good omen.
The premise is solid. Sad cop Cardillo (Emile Hirsch) and his bright-eyed partner, Jess (Stephanie Cayo), are tasked with evacuating an apartment complex during a hurricane, while a posse of well-dressed hoodlums execute their rare art heist in the same building. As in the similar Hurricane Heist, the criminals are counting on the bad weather to keep the police busy and the heat off them. The imagery doesn’t suffer much from the torrential downpour because Force Of Nature chops its action up into shot-reverse-shots that privilege the characters more than the scope of the environment. That would be great if there were characters. But neither director Michael Polish (Twin Falls Idaho) nor screenwriter Cory Miller much flesh out the people on screen.
This leaves the actors with little to latch onto. Gibson, whose continued employment despite years of damning accusations is a rebuff to the very idea of “cancel culture,” seems to be the only one aware that he’s in a B movie. As a seen-it-all veteran cop with a hacking cough and the gritty demeanor of Rocky’s Mick, he delivers an interesting performance that takes his role in S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete to an absurd new extreme. David Zayas, meanwhile, is serviceable as the gun-toting leader of the art hunters, who must suffer from some seriously impaired hearing; he doesn’t bat an eye as his potential witness-victims move about the complex with a complete lack of noise discipline, shooting doors open and shouting in the hallways, and only investigates when the plot demands it. That’s the kind of lapse in logic that can add, not subtract from the fun. But absent any wild stunts or over-the-top action, Force Of Nature is mostly just boring.
Hirsch, coming off his brief turn in Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, does his best with a flimsy script that shoehorns in backstory as jarringly as Phoebe Cates recounting why she hates Christmas during a Gremlin apocalypse. Cardillo reveals that he shot and killed someone as the result of a false police report, and that’s why he treats the local citizenry with condescension and mistrust. It’s a relevant plot point at a time when police injustice is inspiring protests nationwide. Nothing is done with that thread, however, and the one Black character hassled by Cardillo is more or less expected to take his poor treatment and move on with his day. Said character, Griffin (William Catlett), is a tenant of the apartments that Cardillo and Jess are evacuating, and harbors a massive unorthodox pet that hates cops and feasts daily on buckets of raw meat. Sadly, the man-eating kitty is just a feline ex machina. This could have been a fun creature feature instead.
Though vaguely aware of what’s going on in the world today, Force Of Nature is right on time to be out of touch. This is a story that asks its audience to believe things about American law enforcement that we know to be untrue; Cardillo discourages his partner from doing her job—in this case helping reluctant evacuees—because one of them might file a complaint, which he claims would end her career. Recent news stories have confirmed what plenty of voices have been saying all along, which is that a litany of complaints won’t hurt an officer’s career one bit; they’ll be shuffled from precinct to precinct in an insidious shell game of accountability avoidance, still allowed access to a badge and a gun. It certainly isn’t Polish’s intention to make any grand political statements with his action thriller, but expecting empathetic connection with a callous white cop is a big ask in today’s climate. And it sours what’s otherwise just a lackluster B movie drowned in buckets of rain.