Sunday, March 14, 2010

"The Rock" (1996)

"The Rock" (1996)
Starring Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris
Written by David Weisberg & Douglas Cook
Directed by Michael Bay

"Welcome to the Rock."  A preposterous action film from the talented minds of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay, "The Rock" sees Force Recon General Francis Hummel (Ed Harris) steal a payload of rockets filled with a deadly nerve gas and aim them toward the city of San Francisco.  Taking hostages on the former prison island of Alcatraz, Hummel demands a payment of $100 million from the US government as restitution for the families of fallen soldiers under his command on top-secret missions over the years.

The FBI recruits chemical weapons specialist Stanley Goodspeed (Nic Cage) and former Alcatraz prisoner John Masion (Sean Connery) to find a way into the supposedly inescapable prison and defuse the situation.  And for the next two hours and twenty minutes or so, that's pretty much what they do.  Mix in car chases, gunfights, explosions and some witty one liners from Sir Connery, and you've got "The Rock."

Before taking his 'Bayhem' style to ridiculous heights of stupidity ("Armageddon", "Pearl Harbor") director Michael Bay was actually quite good at crafting high-octane action films with style and wit all their own.  Sure, they were never going to be best picture winners, but Bay knew how to stage chases and fights with flare the likes of which few had seen on screen before.  When people say that such and such a movie was "shot and edited like a music video", well, they can thank Mr. Bay for that... oh, and Tony Scott, too.

Probably the only problem with "The Rock" as a film is that it takes, and I kid you not, exactly one hour before the characters even attempt their infiltration into Alcatraz.  The previous hour is spent introducing characters and destroying half of San Francisco in one single car chase.  The film employs standard action movie tropes like reading aloud the qualifications of its badass main characters, as though all that nonsense is supposed to impress us.  Listening to the director of the FBI run down Goodspeed's qualifications, with Goodspeed standing right there in front of him, is a bore and a total waste of time.  We'd already been introduced to the fact that Goodspeed is highly qualified in an earlier scene where he defuses a bomb inside of a child's doll.

So the front end of the film could use a little trimming, since once the movie gets to Alcatraz, it starts to finally run on all cylinders.  In fact, the second half of the movie steams by so fast, you wonder if the movie is really as long as its runtime suggests.

But "The Rock" is still a wildly fun ride.  Connery gets in a bunch of great lines ("Your best?  Losers always whine about their best!  Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.") and the action is varied and well-done.  There isn't much in the way of twists and turns to the plot - everything here is predictable to a T.  The fun comes in watching all the destruction and mayhem unfold, not from trying to guess where the "story" will go next.