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‘Force of Nature’ is like ‘Die Hard’ with a tempest

The good guy’s mission is complicated by a hurricane, a criminal mastermind and Mel Gibson’s racist past.

San Juan cop Cardillo (Emile Hirsch) has a rocky history in “Force of Nature.”
Lionsgate

After the mega-success of “Die Hard” in 1988, the basic formula — good guy trapped in a confined space faces off against maniacal villain and his henchmen — was lifted for one action film after another in the 1990s .

• “Under Siege” (1992) “Die Hard” on a ship.

• “Cliffhanger” (1993) was “Die Hard” on a mountain.

• “Speed” (1994) was “Die Hard” on a bus.

• “Air Force One” (1997) was “Die Hard” on a plane.

(Not to mention certain “Die Hard” sequels, such as “Die Hard 2,” which was “Die Hard” in an airport.)

A generation later, we’re STILL seeing the concept at play, in films such as “White House Down” (2013) and “Skyscraper” (2018). Now comes the violent and lurid and politically incorrect “Force of Nature,” which is “Die Hard” in a hurricane and replicates the framework more faithfully (aka with less originality) than most, from the claustrophobic setting; to the displaced New York cop who speaks via a walkie-talkie type device to the narcissistic villain; to multiple shootouts involving gun-toting henchmen; to a sociopathic geek breaking into an “unbreakable” safe; to scenes where our anti-hero crashes through windows, keeps going despite suffering multiple wounds and finds himself in a precarious situation with another character dangling from the side of a building.

If that sounds exhausting, director Michael Polish (“Twin Falls, Idaho,” “The Astronaut Farmer”) indeed keeps the pedal to the heavy metal through most of the 1 hour, 31 minute running time, pausing only occasionally for clichéd “back story” scenes such as the moment when the protagonist sustains a pretty serious wound, winces as he’s patched up and shares an intimate anecdote from his personal life which explains why he is where he is today. (At least this time, the individual doing the ad-libbed stitching job in a dark hideaway is an actual doctor.)

“Force of Nature” actually has an early scene straight out of the first “Lethal Weapon,” as Emile Hirsch’s troubled cop, Cardillo, contemplates suicide and even puts his gun in his mouth while remembering his dead wife. It’s a long time before we learn what happened in New York City to turn Cardillo into such a cynical, reckless, dangerous mess. All we know for now is he’s a desk-jockey cop in San Juan, Puerto Rico, who is sent into the field with a green and enthusiastic new partner named Jess (Stephanie Cayo) to search for residents who are refusing to leave their homes even as a Category 5 hurricane bears down on the city.

A ridiculous incident involving a man named Griffin (William Catlett) buying 100 lbs. of meat to feed his pet big cat (it seems to be a panther) results in Cardillo and Jess escorting Griffin back to his apartment, moments before a ruthless criminal mastermind who calls himself John the Baptist and at least a half-dozen heavily armed gunmen storm the complex in search of a hidden treasure tucked away by one Bergkamp (Jorge Luis Ramos), an old man from Germany with a deep and shameful family secret, and I’ll bet you can figure out what the secret might be.

With overwrought action-thriller music pounding on the soundtrack and director Polish having fun by turning the rain machines to 11 and saturating the apartment building hallways in splashy, nightclub-worthy colors of pink and green and blue, Cardillo winds up partnering with a doctor named Troy (Kate Bosworth) while Jess teams up with Troy’s father, an old-school, civil-rights-be-damned, mean cuss of an ex-cop named Ray, who is played by Mel Gibson, and we’ve come full circle with the “Lethal Weapon” nods.

Mel Gibson plays a mean cuss of an ex-cop who steps up to help the good guys.
Lionsgate

It’s an effective performance by Gibson — he still has the ability to command the screen — but It’s impossible to completely put aside Gibson’s racist and anti-Semitic and allegedly abusive past, especially in a movie featuring white good guys and villains of color (not to mention a Nazi storyline). There’s also a startling moment when Griffin, who is Black, tells a story about receiving a large settlement after he was severely beaten by white cops, and saying he feels guilty about taking the money because he didn’t earn it. What? We also get some truly ludicrous dialogue, e.g., when John the Baptist (David Zayas, who played the good-guy supervisor cop Angel on “Dexter”) reveals he knows about Cardillo’s past in New York, and Cardillo says, “How do you know about that?” and the villain replies, “I know everything. I’m John the Baptist.” That’s not an answer!

At least Stephanie Cayo’s Jess and Kate Bosworth’s Troy save Ray and/or Cardillo as often as the tough guys bail them out. Not that it ultimately matters, as the predictable plot gets mired in one predictable shootout sequence after another, leading up to a supposed big twist in the climactic battle we can see coming two scenes in advance. “Force of Nature” is more of a nasty little rainstorm than a Category 5 anything.