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The Rock

Starring Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris
Directed by Michael Bay

Let's cut to the chase. Don't mess with V.X. gas, cause it's bad stuff. V.X. gas is so deadly that if you inhale just a wee little bit of it, your face starts to bubble off your bones--think boiling Chocolate or Strawberry Quick -- and you die an incredibly painful death. Which is what is in store for the city of San Francisco, if the terrorists who have captured Alcatraz Island fire off missiles packed with the stuff.

Ed Harris is the general who leads his traitorous troops in the capture of the island and tourists thereupon (hereafter referred to as "hostages"). His reasoning has something to do with a government conspiracy to hide secret military actions ("black ops") of his troops in the Vietnam and Desert Storm Wars. His desire is hundreds of millions of dollars in a secret slush fund.

Nicolas Cage is the chemical expert, so expert that when booby-trapped Bosnian baby dolls explode, spewing poisonous gas and acid spray in a confined space; Cage is the agent who doesn't get hurt. Damn he's good. He's also got a girlfriend, a baby on the way, and likes to play guitar naked. The FBI wants him to "defuse" the missiles carrying the V.X. gas which means he has to break INTO Alcatraz, avoid the bad guys, find the missiles to do his job.

Break INTO Alcatraz? How can you break into a prison that can't be broken OUT of? Ah, but it has!

Which brings us to our final player, John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery). A top notch British secret agent who "disappeared" 30 something years ago when he stumbled across a microfilm containing the most precious secrets of a man called J. Edgar Hoover. Things like, "What about those aliens in Roswell, NM?" and "Who really killed JFK?" The U.S. government has kept Mason imprisoned without trial all these years because he would not give up the film.

And you wondered why James Bond all of a sudden started looking like Roger Moore.

If Cranky had not been laughing so hard at the asides and toss away lines that are everywhere in this thing, I'd really be going off about the absolute dimwit paranoia that infuses this script. ("Who killed JFK," indeed. Get yourself a copy of Gerald Posner's book "Case Closed" and read the acknowledgments carefully -- Cranky is everywhere.) Let's deal strictly with the entertainment value.

The Rock is filled to the brim with magnificently choreographed stunt and explosives work. Hats off to Director Michael Bay and DP John Schwartzman for getting the shots (explosions, flying cable cars, etc.) onto celluloid, and a rousing hurrah hope-you-get-an-Oscar-nod, best wishes to Richard Francis-Bruce, who brilliantly edited the piece.

But watching The Rock is like taking shots from a ball-peen between the eye a couple of dozen times. By the time the finale rolled around I was so exhausted I couldn't take it anymore. And the movie itself had lost control of its focus. The hostages have vanished into "somewhere not on screen" Heaven; some elements of the threat have been done away with (lotsa cool graphic violence kiddies!) And the final threat is just, well, who gives a patootie?

Action movies should start big, pull back to something small, and build themselves up to a bigger climax. If you look at the really good ones, you'll see this general pattern. Those that go full blast out of the starting gate, and continue to blast you with both barrels, fail because you cannot catch your breath. The Rock blasts, reloads, and blasts again and again and again. If I had put a six-pack down first (hell, if I was a decade younger so I "could"), I would have been whooping and hollering and raving about The Rock as I walked out the door. Which is what the collegiate behind me did.

But Cranky ain't 20 no more. On the other hand, I came to the brutal realization, halfway through the movie, that The Rock is NOT an action picture. It's a comedy.

It's a comedy with a goodly number of really cool looking action sequences with lots of things that blow up. Gotta be. Because you never, as an audience member, are allowed to be put in a position where you think that the danger is real. Not to the hostages. Not to the city of San Francisco. Not to the personal families of Cage and Connery, both of whom happen to be conveniently in San Fran at the time. Sure, all these elements are in the script and on the screen, but it is so much more exciting to drop FBI agents over hotel balconies, and make cable cars do half gainers and blow up, isn't it?

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for The Rock, he would have paid . . .

$5.50(maybe $6)

The folks I sat with put it at $6.50. The Rock is a perfectly OK summer movie. I got no sense of impending greatness from the preview trailer, and I was not disappointed by what I saw. You could wait for PPV or rental, but the action sequences, for all the faults of the overall movie, are magnificent.

Click to buy films by Michael Bay
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