Combustible Celluloid
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With: Cole Hauser, Charlie Weber, Katie Katzman, Jackie Cruz, Mel Gibson, Mauricio Hénao
Written by: Daniel Adams, William Barber
Directed by: Mark Neveldine
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexual content, nudity, drug use and language
Running Time: 94
Date: 03/18/2022

Panama (2022)

1 Star (out of 4)

Root Canal

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Nearly shameless in its attempts to re-create the feel of a low-budget, straight-to-VHS 1980s action flick, this un-thrilling movie also forgets to tell a coherent story, or to make us care at all.

It's 1989 and former Marine Becker (Cole Hauser) is grieving for his wife, drinking and passing out on her grave. A CIA operative, Stark (Mel Gibson) offers him a job. He is to go to Panama to procure a Russian helicopter, which will then be used to take out dictator Manuel Noriega.

He meets his liaison, Enrique Rodriguez (Mauricio Hénao) a money launderer with a cocaine habit and three fiancées. As cover, he gets a job as a consultant for a casino. He meets Camilla (Kiara Ortega), and, despite Enrique's warnings, begins a love affair with her. But then the double-crosses begin, and Becker must fight for his life.

Set just before the 1989 "Operation Just Cause," in which the U.S. invaded Panama and ousted dictator Manuel Noriega, the clumsy, low-budget Panama doesn't really use the story for any purpose. Rather, it gives us a rapid-fire exposition dump and plenty of distractions and padding, such as the various sex and nude scenes, and a completely gratuitous motorcycle chase through the jungle.

The director is Mark Neveldine, best known for the lunatic, high-energy Crank movies (Crank and Crank: High Voltage), who has fallen a long way since then. Now his action is just confusing. He can't even manage a stable tone, wildly swinging from Gibson's gung-ho line reading of "Let me tell you... there's nothing more rock 'n' roll than taking out the bad guys for the Red, White and Blue," to a solemn view of a refugee camp, filled with victims of war.

Panama seems unaware of history's gray areas as well, choosing to look past the illegal aspects of the invasion. As for the performances, Hauser isn't much of a hero, Gibson is barely onscreen (he cheerfully narrates throughout, however), and not one woman in the cast is anything more than a sex object. In short, it's less Panama Canal and more root canal.

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