1998, R, 111 min. Directed by Harold Becker. Starring Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Miko Hughes, Chi Mcbride, Kim Dickens, Robert Stanton, Bodhi Pine Elfman, Carrie Preston, L.l. Ginter.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 10, 1998
A good Bruce Willis film is a lot like a big plate of meat and potatoes, and a bad Bruce Willis film is, well, a lot like a big plate of meat and potatoes. As the archetypal action hero Everyman, Willis has taken to expanding his palette in the past few years (notably with Pulp Fiction, which, granted, was more of a horizontal move than anything else), but Mercury Rising makes no such efforts -- it's vintage Willis, and as such, it's pretty much a bore. Willis plays Art Jeffries, an FBI agent at the end of his rope after a botched hostage situation goes kablooey right under his nose. Haunted by the deaths of two young militia members who were about to surrender, he's bumped to a desk-jockey position by his superiors, who feel he's far too much of a loose cannon in his current, dilapidated mindset. (You have to ask, though, when is a Bruce Willis character not a loose cannon? You could team this guy up with Mel Gibson's Lethal Weapon character, Martin Riggs, and outgun Hussein's elite Palace Guards in 30 seconds flat.) When he's called in to investigate the apparent murder/suicide of a lower-income mom and dad, he immediately smells a rat and begins to unravel a skein of cover-ups and federal obfuscation that revolves around the couple's autistic child Simon (Hughes), who has since gone missing. As it turns out in the wildly improbable world of Mercury Rising, the boy is a savant who has inadvertently cracked the NSA's famed “Mercury Code,” a cryptography program designed to provide cover for all of America's deep-cover agents the world over. Headed by a scheming but utterly logical bureaucrat (Baldwin), the Feds are out to kill the little boy before anyone else discovers he's broken their code wide open. No matter that the boy has no idea what he's done -- conventional government spook thinking rationalizes that the tyke is a threat to national security (and, at the risk of sounding like a heel, makes a very convincing argument in the process) and therefore must be destroyed. As you might expect, much mayhem ensues, with Willis shuttling the kid from one safe house to another as the “just doing our jobs” government agents close in. Becker (The Onion Field, Sea of Love) has a terrific eye for action scenes, but Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal's script gives him little to work with, and Mercury Rising ends up being nearly as exciting as watching the thermometer outside your kitchen window, “nearly” being the key word there. Willis is essentially playing his Die Hard character one more time, and even Hughes as the odd little autistic kid seems paradoxically hellbent on hamming it up. Not quite loud enough to be a seasonal blockbuster, Mercury Rising is instead more of a dull thud on the action film map, fodder for Willis fanatics, and not much else.