Thursday 22 May 2014

Movie Review: The Rock (1996)

A simplistic action film, The Rock piles on the thrills in a story of rogue soldiers threatening San Francisco with chemical weapons, but despite a good cast the film lacks soul and sophistication.

Highly respected and battle hardened General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris) is disgruntled at the lack of proper recognition afforded to Marines who die while on covert missions. He recruits a group of soldiers to break into a military facility and steal several rockets equipped with deadly VX gas. Hummel and his men then storm and occupy Alcatraz, formerly a top security federal prison and now a tourist attraction. They hold tourists as hostages, point the rockets at San Francisco, and Hummel demands a $100 million ransom.

As the negotiations bog down, a Navy Seal team is recruited to infiltrate Alcatraz through the sewer system and end the threat. FBI chemical weapons expert Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) is added to the team, as is the mysterious John Mason (Sean Connery), a prisoner in his 60s held by the US government for more than 30 years and the only man to have successfully escaped from Alcatraz. With Commander Anderson (Michael Biehn) in charge the Navy Seals run into a lot of trouble, and it is left up to Goodspeed and Mason to rescue the situation. Goodspeed, who has no combat experience, soon comes to learn that there is a lot more to Mason than initially meets the eye.

Director Michael Bay's second feature film after Bad Boys (1995), The Rock is a routine high-concept action thriller in a big rush to find the next noisy set-piece at the expense of logic, plot, and characters. While the firefights and explosions are handled proficiently and with reasonably good tension, the film is a missed opportunity to do so much more with an excellent cast.

The script takes itself far too seriously and is not up to the task of developing rounded people. Instead Connery, Cage and Harris are reduced to pre-packaged and empty characters. Connery does come off best and tries to hold the film together, and occasionally the glint in his eye is enough to overcome the rather juvenile events unfolding around him. A lame attempt to give Cage a pregnant girlfriend (Vanessa Marcil) to worry about is almost forgotten amidst all the mayhem. Most often The Rock resembles a routine video game adaptation where the heroes have to run, jump, hide, crawl, shoot and overcome ridiculous odds to achieve the next objective, and then repeat.

As far as action thrillers that demand minimal mental engagement go, it's all professionally executed and Bay puts the $75 million budget to good use. The three lead actors are always watchable despite the material, and dutifully execute their assigned roles of hero-gone-rogue (Harris), technician-thrust-into-combat (Cage) and resourceful-prisoner-with-dark-past (Connery). They dodge all the necessary projectiles until the grand finale approaches, complete with an incinerate-everything countdown threat. The Rock is solid entertainment, but as mindlessly dense on the inside as it is spectacular on the surface.

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