Between a ‘Rock’ and Loud Place
The closing credits for “The Rock” include a dedication “in loving memory to Don Simpson,” but this last film from the late producer and his partner Jerry Bruckheimer so perfectly encapsulates everything the pair have stood for that the actual words are superfluous.
A picture that believes that bigger and louder are better, that success goes to whatever makes the most noise and does the most damage, this story of a nasty hostage situation on Alcatraz epitomizes trends in Hollywood filmmaking that have made many people very rich while impoverishing audiences around the world.
Slick and forceful, largely unconcerned with character, eager for any opportunity to pump up the volume both literally and metaphorically, “The Rock” is the kind of efficient entertainment that is hard to take pleasure in. It’s this year’s model of a dangerous sports car or a designer knife: You don’t know whether to admire it or run for cover when it approaches.
Director Michael Bay, who performed similar services on Simpson-Bruckheimer’s “Bad Boys,” has no trouble making action move crisply and efficiently. Whether the script (credited to David Weisberg & Douglas S. Cook and Mark Rosner) has people being crushed, knifed, impaled or merely shot, pausing for breath is not a viable option.
This soldierly rigor is fitting in a story that involves two opposing military operations: one to take over Alcatraz and threaten San Francisco with a lethal gas attack, the other an attempt to take the venerable island prison back again.
Heading the first maneuver is Marine Brig. Gen. Francis Xavier Hummel (Ed Harris, impressive as always). Variously described as a legend and the greatest battalion commander of the Vietnam War, Hummel has more decorations than a pawn shop window. He also has a serious attitude problem vis-a-vis the state he’s loyally served.
Irked by the lack of respect and cash paid to the families of men who died in government-sponsored covert operations, Hummel masterminds an operation to steal quantities of V.X. poison gas, “one of the most deadly substances the Earth has ever known.” Then he grabs Alcatraz, takes 81 civilian hostages, points the gas toward the City by the Bay and gives Washington 40 hours to come up with millions in domestic reparations.
Understandably reluctant to pay cash, the government instead infiltrates the Rock with a Navy SEAL team supplemented by a pair of unusual and highly skilled additions: “a 60-year-old convict and a lab rat,” played respectively by Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage.
Connery is John Patrick Mason, a former whiz for the British secret service and, in the film’s typically emphatic terminology, “one of the most dangerous men alive.” Imprisoned without trial for 30 years, Mason once escaped from Alcatraz (shh, it’s a secret) and his knowledge of the prison’s subterranean superstructure is just what any assault team would need. If he can be trusted.
Cage plays the man’s opposite number, eccentric FBI agent Stanley Goodspeed. He may seem like a bumbling fool who drives a beige Volvo and is willing to spend $600 on a vintage Beatles record, but in reality Goodspeed is a nerveless ace when it comes to disabling chemical weapons. If he can get close enough to go to work.
Though “The Rock” does not lack for elaborate and effective action set-pieces, the excitement generated by this scenario feels artificial, and the film pushes itself so hard the desire to push back is inevitable.
With characters in a constant state of panic, refusing to speak when yelling is an option, “The Rock” is quite an assault itself, a nonstop bombardment that is content to pound audiences into submission if they can’t be convinced by saner methods.
Despite its success in keeping Brig. Gen. Hummel from becoming a standard-issue villain, “The Rock” does not have its heart in its human moments, and that does hurt. Happy to make jokes at the expense of weary cliches like effete hairdressers and doltish foreigners, the film leaves its actors to their own devices while accentuating the mayhem. Jane Austen country this is not.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong violence, language and a sex scene. Times guidelines: shootings, knifings, a man crushed to death and another impaled.
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Sean Connery: John Patrick Mason
Nicolas Cage: Stanley Goodspeed
Ed Harris: Brig. Gen. Francis X. Hummel
Michael Biehn: Cmdr. Anderson
William Forsythe: Eddie Paxton
David Morse: Maj. Tom Baxter
John Spenser: FBI Director Womack
A Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer production, released by Hollywood Pictures. Director Michael Bay. Producers Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer. Executive producers William Stuart, Sean Connery, Louis A. Stroller. Screenplay David Weisberg & Douglas S. Cook and Mark Rosner, story by David Weisberg & Douglas S. Cook. Cinematographer John Schwartzman. Editor Richard Francis-Bruce. Costumes Bobbie Read. Music Nick Glennie-Smith, Hans Zimmer. Production design Michael White. Supervising art director Mark Mansbridge. Art Director Ed McAvoy. Set decorator Rosemary Brandenburg. Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.