Mark Neveldine’s “Panama” is certainly a film best entered with some tempered expectations. Starring Cole Hauser and Mel Gibson, this story is set in the late 80’s and follows an ex-marine (Hauser) hired by a defense contractor (Gibson) to finish a weapons deal down in Panama. He gets caught up in the U.S. invasion of the country and of course all goes to hell from there. Now this is a straight-to-video actioner, so it does come with its limitations. I don’t go into these movies expecting “The Bourne Identity” or “John Wick”. Yet, that isn’t to say these B-action movies get a pass either.
Being a critic who has already in 2022 watched two Bruce Willis movies, I will tell you that simply showing up will not cut it. And while “Panama” does have its flaws and an over reliance on borrowing elements from other genre flicks, there is modest fun to be found with this movie. There is a clear effort to Cole Hauser’s performance that carries the film well. He’s a capable actor, never quite A-List status, but he has range, and he certainly makes the most of this genetically written character.
Despite the predictability, shallow characters, and simplistic dialogue, is a collection of appealing settings, and just enough gun-running, Contras, gratuitous sex, espionage, and political corruption, to fill the run-time with admittedly, slightly more than empty calories. That isn’t to say this plot is captivating. It is however enough to invest in the progression of events regardless of all the familiar stops along the way. There are solid splashes of action that were nicely shot. Neveldine through his direction of these sequences seems to harken back to his “Crank” days and these set-pieces do inject the movie with energy.
It’s a blend of crime-thriller and time-period which does result in a busy story at times. It uses the invasion of Panama as a backdrop and the story attempts to link itself to those events. I wouldn’t say it was successful but when all is slapped together with Gibson’s gravely narration, the 90-minutes does entertain. I would’ve liked more of Gibson in this movie, his narration keeps his presence close, but I will say the effort he brought to the character translates nicely onscreen. Unlike recent Bruce Willis movies where he feels barely connected to the material, Gibson here did fill the character with some gravitas. Which will be appealing to fans of his 80’s and 90’s hits.
In the end, “Panama” is an acquired taste. If you tend to prefer larger blockbuster fare, then you may be let down here. But if you enjoy stepping into these smaller budgeted straight-to-video titles then “Panama” will deliver its share of entertainment. And when compared to other B-action romps with familiar faces from silver screens past, this is among the top of the heap. It’s predictable and all relatively shallow despite appearing to be the contrary. But it very much feels like a movie made in the 80’s set in the 80’s with Hauser and Gibson carrying it and that makes this movie a success.
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2022 SilverScreen Analysis. All Rights Reserved.