Directed by: Mark Neveldine | 95 minutes | action, thriller | Actors: Cole Hauser, Mel Gibson, Charlie Weber, Jackie Cruz, Kiara Liz, Kate Katzman, Simon Phillips, Victor Turpin, Mauricio Hénao, Luca De Massis, Julia Sandstrom, Priscilla Huggins Ortiz, Ramiro ‘Ramir’ Delgado Ruiz, Julio Ramos Velez , Jai Stefan, Nestor Rodulfo, Joksan Ramos, Jean Pierre Prats
Although ‘Panama’, directed by Mark Neveldine (‘Crank’, ‘Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance’), is based on true events, it should be handled with care. The term ‘based on’ has been used flexibly here. Panama did indeed experience a challenging political turnaround in the 1980s with Manuel Noriega. The United States has also had a finger in the pie here. However, the reality stops at this context. Morgan Freeman and Frank Grillo were first linked to this project when the coronavirus set in. The project was therefore put on ice due to the pandemic. However, Cole Hauser (“2 Fast 2 Furious”, “Paparazzi”) contacted Mark Neveldine to get the film shot in Puerto Rico in December 2020 within 14 days. Mel Gibson, an idol of Mark Neveldine, was added to the cast and ‘Panama’ became a fact. The result is unfortunately a rushed whole and looks more like a long video clip, with a casual storyline, than a movie.
An ex-Marine who has spiraled downward after his wife’s death is hired by the CIA to intervene in the volatile political situation of Noriega’s Panama. He is deployed for a secret arms deal that will affect the course of the political storm that rages in the country. He finds himself on a path that leads him to guerrilla fighters, gunfights, murder women, motocross bikes, casinos and betrayal.
‘Panama’ is essentially about political interference by one country, in this case the United States, in another country. The official story is that the US wants to get rid of General Manuel Noriega for extortion and drug trafficking. In ‘Panama’ it is implied that the US wanted to get rid of Noriega because he would no longer be ‘predictable’. This, of course, suggests that the US has no problem with heads of state (official or not) dealing in drugs, as long as they dance to American tunes. This will not be discussed further and that is not important. The theme fits perfectly in this time where the Russo-Ukrainian war can be seen on TV every day and whose political forces are also not completely clear (for the general public). We see the bombs, the ruins and the corpses, but not the clinking champagne glasses behind drawn curtains where secret deals are made that will never reach the light of public opinion.
With such a theme, the film had potential. Real images of Panama and the chaos on the streets are also used. Alone, perhaps because of time (this is speculative of course) or for some other undisclosed reasons, the film feels like a sterile product of a rushed script. The characters are stiff and mechanical, the dialogues are painfully predictable and only serve as lubricant to keep the wheels of the story turning. Cole Hauser as the ex-Marine Becker doesn’t have the flair and credibility he normally exudes. Mel Gibson as Stark has also been reduced to a very cliché and superficial B-movie character. It seems like he has shot his scenes quickly so he can get back to his next appointment. He just doesn’t read his dialogue from an A4 sheet. The camera work is annoyingly chaotic with slow motion shots that serve no purpose at all.
The film relies mainly on high adrenalin action scenes, which, frankly, are boring because they are burps of the many other action scenes seen in all kinds of non-special movies. Here too, the impression is created that the filmmaker (again, this is speculative) had little time and had to finish a program.
‘Panama’ could be much more than it is. This is yet another proof that the presence of A-list actors is no guarantee of quality. You work with what is given to you. This is a B-movie that you watch on RTL4 on a bored Tuesday evening. There is nothing in it that could be experienced as an enrichment. With so many other quality movies, this one isn’t worth the time. Be warned.