Monday, July 6, 2009

A Rocky Start ...

... to my occasional reviews of the box-o-laserdiscs recently dug out of the garage. This time it’s The Rock, (1996), directed by Michael Bay.

One thing I can say in its favor—it’s the only movie I can remember off the top of my head that spends quite a lengthy opening titles sequence setting up the bad guy. Actually, Ed Harris’ general is the classic definition of an antagonist—someone who’s not necessarily ee-vul, just in opposition to the protagonist. Granted that he has the exquisite lack of judgment to choose for his team some of the most obviously psychotic soldiers since Jim Brown and Telly Savalas were press-ganged into The Dirty Dozen, but hey, he has a lot on his mind. He’s masterminding a plot to hold the Bay Area hostage by taking over Alcatraz and aiming a whole buncha missiles containing a nasty nerve agent at San Francisco. (This concoction seems to combine the worst aspects of VX and mustard gas; i.e., it paralyzes and suffocates you by blocking synaptic action, then rots your skin just to show it means business). It’s stored in the form of large green beads, which definitely should have won some kind of design award for prettiest WMD.

(The missiles don’t have far to go—just from Alcatraz to the mainland—but they apparently do it by sheer force of will, since the missile’s entire midsection is taken up by the weapon payload, leaving no room for fuel. Pretty impressive.)

The movie’s big gag is simple and very pitchworthy: instead of escaping from Alcatraz, our team must break into it. To do this, they assemble a team of Navy SEALs, an expert in various nerve agents (Nicholas Cage) and James Bond (Sean Connery). Oh, sure, they call him “John Mason”, but he’s an ultra-suave British agent who could strangle you with the garrote woven into his Saville Row tie in less time than it takes you to say “Licence To Kill”. Trust me; he’s Bond.

So they enter Alcatraz via a storm drain (which, in movies, are always big enough to walk upright in), and Mason gets them past the first obstacle, which is some weird kind of furnace still running after 30 years (Alcatraz closed in the early Sixties). From there it gets ever more bizarre, culminating in a shootout taking place in a kind of underground steampunk dystopia that’s part Temple Of Doom, part Big Thunder Mountain and part Mordor.

Okay, enough. The movie rolls out pretty much as expected; all the SEALs are slaughtered, only Goodspeed (Cage) and Mason remain to discover mutual respect and bond (sorry). Near the movie’s end Cage has to self-inject a dose of atrophine into his heart to counteract the agent’s effects. Which can work as a last resort, although it’s a whole lot harder to push a needle (particularly a big-bore) through a chest wall than it looks. I wouldn’t leave the needle just hanging there, either—infection, tamponade, and other nastiness could ensue.

It’s certainly not as brutally stupid as Armageddon. And you have to give points to a movie that makes a throwaway reference to Roswell. But I’m not gonna be replacing this one on DVD anytime soon.

I'm rating these movies on a three-tier scale: (1) How Could I Live Without It; (2) Worth Keeping, But Not Replacing, and (3) What Was I Thinking?! The Rock gets a solid 2.

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