Friday, February 15, 2013

The Rock (Bay. 1996)

"I was trained by the best. British intelligence. But in retrospect I would rather have been a poet. Or a farmer."

It goes without saying that even the snobbiest of film snobs has a guilty pleasure. Of course, sometimes that pleasure may not seem very guilty to the casual filmgoer. “Me? Oh, my guilty pleasure is Rudy (1993)”. But like, that’s a pretty good movie. That might be the line at which you can assume someone really is a cinema-prick. Guilty pleasures make movie-watching a much more tolerable experience. I mean, I love The Red and the White, but I very rarely have a desire to watch it recreationally. I may be a glutton, but I am not a masochist.

Though I only came across it recently, I believe that I have found a socially acceptable guilty pleasure. I am aware of how far behind the time I am with this realization, and for that I will admit to being a tad embarrassed. If you have read this blog in the past then you are aware that I have always been a major Nicolas Cage supporter. My love for the most insane actor alive does not cause guilt, but sitting through his movies has not always been a positive experience. With that being said, I was extremely reluctant to potentially poison my love for Hollywood’s creepy uncle by seeing him paired with a director like Michael Bay.

If money is the stick with which you measure success, then Mr. Bay may be one of the greatest directors of all time. If you measure success by the amount of personal reflection a director is able to mix into his art, then Magic Michael is the cinematic equivalent of Madonna’s British accent - fake and unnecessary. I have often said that his filmography is mostly too mind-numbing to watch, yet way too loud to sleep through. The Rock is the exception to this rule. Though the film has massively significant flaws, the whole thing kinda plays out like a sweet action-dream that you never want to wake up from. Are there plot holes? Sure. Does it matter?

The film stars the aforementioned Nicolas Cage as a biochemist who works for the FBI named Stanley Goodspeed. After finding out that he is going to be a father, the government calls him in to help with a very serious situation. General Francis X. Hummel (Ed Harris) and a band of renegade Marines take hostages on San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island and threaten to unleash chemical warfare if their demands are not met. What do they want? Well, Hummel is upset that men have died under his command on secret, government-denied, missions and therefore their families were never compensated for their loses. He demands that the government pay 100 million dollars to the soldier’s families. Is that really such a bad idea?

Though his stance probably could have been spotlighted more…legally…by an “Occupy”-esque demonstration, the chemical warfare thing works too. Hummel has three Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor. The government takes his threat very seriously. Why do they need Goodspeed? He can dismantle the bombs. But how does he get to them?

Sean Connery may be the best part of the movie, though his character his extremely thinly defined. His name is Mason. He has been in prison for 30 years and he is the only man to ever escape Alcatraz. He is released from prison to use his skills for accomplishing the opposite. Mason will lead Goodspeed into the maximum security prison using the route on which he escaped many years ago.

Like most action films, The Rock is a wham-bam, blink and you’ll miss it mashing of hardly related scenes of violence, catchphrases and unsubtle humor. What makes the film stand out is the three performances by the talented leads. Cage and Connery have a chemistry that makes the viewer forget that the government never even briefed Mason on the mission. They do throw in a half-hearted attempt at motive – Mason has a daughter living in San Francisco, but they obviously saw that as a burden to the pace of the film because the sub-plot never really developed. The Oscar winning duo also has their share of lines and dialogue which can be quoted in almost any stressful circumstance. A certain reference to the prom queen comes directly to mind. It is a far cry from your average “look out!”’s and “get down!”’s that usually dominate action thrillers.

Ed Harris is a sympathetic villain, but he also oozes with crazy. The audience is immediately brought into the action because Harris makes the action believable. The Rock quickly becomes a rollercoaster, but on this particular rollercoaster the participants are forced to wear blindfolds. It is a thrill-ride with unexpected ups and downs, but if you could see what was coming, you would realize that it is a little bit shallow.

Film svengali Roger Ebert once accused Michael Bay of selling his soul to the Devil in exchange for The Rock. This is because there has been a massive drop off in his critical acclaim over the years. This is what caused my initial uncertainty leading up to watching this movie. I assure you, I feel silly for liking it as much as I do. It has action, cheap laughs and great performances. It isn’t a great movie. But I would watch it with a group of friends on a random night. And there is something about that which I admire.

The Rock: B

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