“Panama” marks Mel Gibson’s second movie already of 2022, and it’s further proof the “Lethal Weapon” star is making up for lost time and having some fun while doing it.
Few filmmakers have reached the heights of success that Gibson has. He’s headlined multiple franchises (the “Mad Max” trilogy and “Lethal Weapon”) and directed more than one movie that clicked with both awards voters and audiences (“Braveheart,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “Hacksaw Ridge”).
His personal struggles short circuited that iconic career.
Gibson saw several projects fall apart – namely a Vikings movie that would have starred Leonardo DiCaprio – after his anti-semitic meltdown hit the press.
He also got pushed out of roles in films like 2011’s “Hangover: Part II.” His biggest releases during these years were supporting turns in “The Expendables 3” and “Machete Kills.”
Since headlining 2016’s well-received “Blood Father” and directing “Hacksaw Ridge” the same year though, Gibson has been back to the hard-working filmmaker who first won over audiences in the ’80s and ’90s.
Besides some potential directorial efforts like a “Passion of the Christ” sequel and a “Wild Bunch” remake, Gibson has taken a similar route to other stars from his era. He’s focusing on lower-budgeted, VOD content that harkens back to a less culturally restrictive time full of bombastic action.
Unfortunately, many of these movies are cash grab cheeseburgers that let stars essentially rent out their likeness for sales material.
Gibson, however, has kept a keen eye while navigating this stage of his career.
He’s managed to not lose face, even in the more grindhouse-type content he finds himself starring in these days. He makes bold choices, and “Panama” is the latest.
Gibson takes on a supporting role as a CIA higher up doling out orders to his man in Panama, Becker, played by Cole Hauser. That pairing makes this a “Paparazzi” reunion and, thus, instantly in the upper echelon of VOD content dumped out week after week.
The movie itself is nothing that’ll change how we think about film, but it’s a fun ‘80s throwback that’s actually set in the ‘80s. That gives the filmmakers an excuse to ignore the P.C. Police.
Directed by Mark Neveldine, one half of the psycho “Crank” directing duo, “Panama” is best when it’s relying on Hauser to break heads, Gibson to deliver lines with that Gibson gravitas or slick camera work during the chaotic shootouts and motorcycle races.
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Its tongue is firmly planted in its cheek during these looser moments. Unfortunately, when it needs to rely on providing a plot, there isn’t much of one. The stuff that’s there is all fairly basic (tragic hero who lost his wife, mysterious beautiful woman you’re unsure you can trust, etc.). Those tropes serve a story that feels cut down to its absolute bare bones.
Who needs a plot when you’ve got Gibson as a grumpy CIA veteran, Hauser throwing fists and Neveldine shooting the film’s locales, women and action like he’s auditioning for the next “Expendables” movie?
Bare bones can work for flicks like this as long as you have talent like Gibson, Hauser, and Neveldine shouldering the responsibility.
Gibson’s role is limited, but he strings the minimal plot together through some fun narration. Plus, he’s a blast when he’s actually in front of the camera. He is still giving everything he can, which is much more than fans can say for some of his fellow ‘80s heavyweights.
Take Bruce Willis.
The “Die Hard” star and Gibson are working with many of the same producers on their current projects, and both similarly take supporting work. The difference is Willis’ roles are very obviously stretched out with editing tricks, obvious doubles, etc.
When he’s on screen, he mumbles a line or two as if it causes him pain to perform.
Luckily, you won’t find such annoyances in Gibson’s recent output, and the films he chooses seem like genuinely interesting pictures, not interchangeable fast food. Willis has literally starred in “Survive the Night” and “Survive the Game” in the last two years, and they have nothing to do with each other.
Gibson has starred as a gun-toting Santa in 2020’s “Fatman” and he’s taken on some fun mentor roles in underrated flicks like “Dangerous” and the recently released “Last Looks.”
The worst you’ll find among his recent filmography is something like “Force of Nature,” a 2020 release that is still a masterpiece when compared to any of Willis’ last 10 pictures. “Panama” hasn’t excited critics either, but Gibson still comes away looking like he should be giving Willis acting lessons.
Gibson would have every excuse to simply cash some checks for a few quick lines, but the actor uses his time in independent genre movies to experiment and throw red meat to fans looking for some loud fun from Martin Riggs.
“Panama” counts itself among the red meat projects, which Gibson lovingly confirms in the movie’s opening line: “Let me tell you, there’s nothing more rock n’ roll than taking out the bad guys for the Red, White and Blue.”