Mad Mel. He’s been an intensely controversial figure in his lifetime, with the alleged anti-English sentiments, the strange fundamentalist Catholicism, the booze, drugs, violence and slight problem with our Jewish friends. Not attempting to diminish the toxicity of many of his statements, but it’s actually a good thing that it amounted to little more than the abusive blathering of a disturbed drunkard, and I’m certainly in no position whatsoever to be sceptical about his professed contrition, as there’s nothing to suggest that he doesn’t regret it. I genuinely think the dude is bonkers, and I say this as a longtime fan. He’s a great actor and has been in the director’s chair for some insanely awesome works, and I’m resolutely committed to the principle of separating art and artist.
The reason I preface this review with all of that detail is that I had a rather peculiar notion when viewing the film at hand. The unflattering and uncomplicated media depiction of Gibson as an unpredictable, quasi-demented alcoholic curmudgeon and nutcase was axiomatically damning and somewhat free of nuance, but one could be forgiven for thinking Mel has based his latest performance on that precise caricature. He’s not even the focal character in the film, but he’s unquestionably the most bankable performer, which, I think, is the only logically accessible factor in this strange, discordant and silly crime thriller where Mel Gibson’s aforementioned looney-tune performance isn’t even the most looney thing about it.
Cardillo (Emile Hirsch) is a former NYPD detective who left the post in disgrace after a tragic 911 callout gone wrong, and has been reassigned to beat duty in Puerto Rico, of all places. Newly partnered with rookie cop Jess (Stephanie Cayo), Cardillo makes routine calls and investigates several disturbances while the island is gripped by an evacuation panic during a Category 5 hurricane (mirroring the real-life Hurricane Maria that devastated the island in 2017).
After responding to a report of a fight in a local supermarket, Cardillo and Jess are led to an apartment building where certain occupants are refusing to evacuate, including elderly German recluse Bergkamp (Jorge Luis Ramos) and crazy ex-cop Ray (Gibson). Ray is a cantankerous, manic and garrulous old fart who is on a mountain of prescription medication for chronic pain and organ problems, and he likely isn’t long for this world. Ray’s daughter, local surgeon Troy (Kate Bosworth), is at the end of her tether attempting to convince her father to evacuate his home like everybody else, and the concerns of herself and our two focal coppers are met with profane outbursts and paranoid, disjointed ramblings. Ray is obviously intended to come across as being away with the fairies because of the pills he has to constantly pop, but I merely thought he was shitfaced and just a general mentalist.
As all of this is underway, an armed crew of Puerto Rican men roll up to the apartment complex. They are a gang of brigands led by John The Baptist (David Zayas), a ruthless local crime lord and career thief of fearsome reputation. The Baptist and his men have discerned the building as the location of some ridiculously expensive loot, and are intent on disabusing the inhabitants of any illusions that they won’t do absolutely anything to walk away with what they came for, no matter how heinous. Promptly executing a complex official or two, the nasty crims storm the area. Cue some preliminary bickering and uneasiness, the central characters have no choice but to use their guile and skill to face off against the cruel Baptist and his cronies if they hope to live another day.
This film is nothing short of an utter whackjob piece. As mentioned before, Mel appears to be completely off his rocker, the character of Ray inexplicably transforming from a jabbering, irrationally hostile grump in constant pain into a fighting fit, badass marksman, rounded off by adorning his old department-issued bulletproof vest. For a figure spoken of in such daunting terms, John The Baptist is curiously underdeveloped, as are all of his subordinates, but it’s at least tonally consistent with the majority of the film’s characterisation. Everything feels extremely rushed, and the attempt to infuse poignancy via the strong emotional connection of strangers in a life-or-death scenario simply doesn’t land. None of the performances are bad per se, the actors merely having been forced to work with a script that crams far too many elements into a 90-minute running time, but the audience can’t forge any real connection with what’s at stake. Chuck in some inchoate subplot about Nazi art hauls and the fact that tenant Griffin (Will Catlett) keeps a gigantic hungry panther locked in a closet (which gives the film a super nutty and baffling monster movie edge), and you’re essentially left with what looks like Mel Gibson’s recollections of a particularly chemically-influenced fever dream.
There has also been some controversy about director Mike Polish and all others involved crudely exploiting an actual tragedy to create a farcical action thriller. Aside from the fact that the hurricane isn’t even realistically portrayed, there’s an uncomfortable dynamic in having the central villains all being Puerto Rican men while the protagonists are all American (save for the one aforementioned German) and predominantly white. It does, unfortunately, suffer from a ‘Murican exceptionalist hero complex, with the bad guys sitting atop of the ‘wily and sinister-looking Hispanic criminal’ stereotype. Utilising an event where 3,000 people horribly lost their lives to create a story where said people entirely constitute the film’s evil element leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
It’s an odd film with an overzealous hodgepodge of emotions and ideas, the only real saving grace being some ironic laughs engendered by Mel Gibson’s batshit pensioner performance. None of it really works but, counterintuitively, I didn’t hate it. Emile Hirsch has always been a great performer, and he makes a valiant attempt at a charismatic and well-rounded character here, but the story is just too schizophrenic to allow him or anyone else to really take off. It’s in no way memorable and certainly isn’t worth more than the once-over, but I’d urge you to indulge it the one time for the consummate strangeness of the thing.