The Rock (1996)

Now *this* is more like it.  Soaked in testosterone, star-powered 
by a trio of A-list actors, and stylish steered by 24-year-old BAD 
BOYS director Michael Bay, THE ROCK delivers the sort of all-out 
sensory assault that this year's summer season has been in dire 
need of.  Producers Don Simpson-- who died this spring and to whom 
the film is dedicated to-- and Jerry Bruckheimer (TOP GUN, BEVERLY 
HILL COP) know that nothing succeeds like excess.  They've pushed 
THE ROCK to be their hardest, fastest, and loudest blockbuster yet.  
The results are just that:  big, bold, immensely entertaining, 
*and* of surprising depth.  A canny combination of popular genres, 
THE ROCK is equal parts caper flick and buddy pic, mixed with bits 
and pieces of political conspiracy and secret-agent stuff.  All 
shaken, not stirred, of course.  (Imagine an Oliver Stone-scripted 
DIE HARD sequel starring James Bond and you're halfway there.)

The plot introduces a disgruntled Marine general (Ed Harris) who 
has devised an elaborate hostage scheme for getting money to the 
families of servicemen who were disowned by the government after 
certain secret missions.  He and a crack group of soldiers steal a 
set of gas-filled rockets, infiltrate Alcatraz island in the San 
Francisco Bay, and threaten mass death and destruction if their 
demands are not met.  The feds respond by sending in a SEAL team 
accompanied by two peculiar characters:  an FBI chemical weapons 
specialist (Nicholas Cage) who has more experience with a guitar 
than a gun and a former Alcatraz inmate (Sean Connery) with a 
rather unusual history.  One knows about rockets; the other knows 
about "the Rock."  (Connery's character is a former British 
intelligence agent, wink wink, who stole some of J. Edgar Hoover's 
secrets and has since been held, without trial, in various maximum-
security prisons for the last thirty years.)  

Before they land on the island-- via underwater transport in a nod 
to THUNDERBALL-- both Cage and Connery get their fair share of  
horseplay.  Cage is at the center of a nifty bomb diffusion/poison 
gas sequence near the beginning of the film, while Connery later 
performs an ingenious escape from a high-rise penthouse.  (Oh, if 
only Pierce Brosnan were so dashing.)  Both Cage and Connery end  
up in a spectacular car chase, with one in a "borrowed" Ferrari and 
the other driving a civilian (!) Humvie.  The director films much 
of the chase in close-up, which allows us to see such dizzying 
details as a row of parking meters that disintegrates into a cloud 
of coins.  (He also knows when to pull back the camera.  Like when 
a trolley car goes airborne.)  By the time Cage and Connery get to 
the island-- to play cat-and-mouse with the bad guys-- the more 
faint-hearted viewers may find themselves already exhausted!

The strengths of THE ROCK are many:  the contrast between Cage's 
mild-mannered intensity and Connery's quicker, more-unpredictable 
wit; Ed Harris barking orders in his customarily clipped and no-
nonsense fashion; the furrowed brows of David Morse, Michael Biehn, 
and William Forsythe as supporting players in the best boys-club 
cast since CRIMSON TIDE; cinematographer John Schwartzman's 
gorgeous bronze and blue hues; and, of course, director Michael 
Bay's remarkable use of quick-cutting.  (You can probably count on 
two hands the number of shots that last longer than five seconds.)  
The film's flashy, in-your-face-and-you-better-pay-attention style 
of narrative may turn off some viewers.  Those who can't see the 
subtle differences between "10" and "11" on a volume dial, for 
example, may wish to skip this one.  THE ROCK roars and for obvious 
reasons.  Just as we need the juice to gloss over the various 
preposterous plot points, we also need the juice to ensure that 
*this* summer's thrill ride is more exciting than last summer's.  
And the summer before.  And the summer before that one...  (Rated 
"R"/124 min.)

Grade: A-

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted in triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: June 8, 1996

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