Have we entered the ‘Bruce Willis’ stage of Mel Gibson’s career? Maybe
To be fair, Gibson has more screentime in the first 5 minutes than Bruce Willis does in entire movies. Not every movie can be ‘The Batman’ and sport a 200+ million dollar production. Some movies have to operate with far far less.
‘Panama’ is a LOW budget action film under the umbrella of Saban films. But it is something about this film that has charm. If you are knowledgeable enough about the art of filmmaking, Panama gives you an inside look at how to make a film on a TIGHT budget.
Send a crew to Puerto Rico, hire some competent workers who know what they are doing, and keep your camera work tight. Do this correctly and can convince the audience that you are in Central America in the 1980s when you are NOT.
Panama is a film set in the late 1980s about an Ex-marine James Becker (Cole Hauser) who is grieving the loss of his wife before being recruited by Stark (Mel Gibson). Stark is a CIA operative who wants Becker to negotiate an arms deal down in the country of Panama. They need the deal to go through so that they can obtain a Russian helicopter for the future assassination of dictator Manuel Noriega. With an American invasion of Panama looming over the country, Becker becomes more embroiled with the corrupt government, a money launderer Enrique Rodriguez (Mauricio Hénao), and a shadowy local (Kiara Liz) with her own past.
‘Panama’ is in every sense a throwback film to 1980s B action films but only some of the aspects truly click. Every camera trick in the book is used in this film. There is a jarring lack of stability in the film’s style which is due to many scenes being shot from the perspective of a mobile cameraman. With a small budget, the film creates the illusions of sets by filming in nearby locations that can pass as military locations and mega-mansions as long as you don’t go outside the shot. The film can’t create the 1980s so as long as the cast wears 80s clothing and you see a junker Datsun that was likely borrowed for the shot, the thread of believability remains.
As far as the story goes, the film starts strong and ends strong but even for a movie that is only 90 minutes in runtime, there is a massive burnout period in the 2nd act where the story becomes bottlenecked due to the lack of parlor tricks available in the pocket. Hauser does most of the work in Panama and while he isn’t terrible, he also doesn’t have the charisma to carry a film by himself. Everyone else doesn’t have enough screentime to have a considerable impact.
If you like action scenes, hot sex, and classic 1980s talk of crushing communists; there is some enjoyment Panama will bring you. From a filmmaking perspective, there are a lot of things to admire but script-wise there isn’t enough juice in Panama to separate it from its potential.