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Mercury Rising Print E-mail
Friday, 01 February 2008
Image“Mercury Rising” was touted as a thinking man’s thriller when it came out in 1998. Paranoia about Y2K and how the world was going to end because computers couldn’t think past the year 2000 wasn’t quite upon the world, but people were thinking about it. T

Bruce Willis was obviously looking for another action-driven success after the first three “Die Hard” movies. In his interview included on the disc, he states that there are plenty of other actors out there who could do what he does, and that what he feels movies have to offer these days is a solid story. He felt certain “Mercury Rising” was that story.

Willis’s portrayal of troubled FBI Special Agent Art Jeffries is good. He’s thoughtful and motivated, carrying a lot of guilt and anger, and doesn’t play well with others. He shares those traits with a lot of other Willis characters. However, in “Mercury Rising” Jeffries doesn’t get involved in one shootout and car chase after another, which both helps and hurts the movie. It’s good that Willis doesn’t merely repeat his performances from past movies, but the fact that the film doesn’t deliver on some of the action and remains somewhat slow throughout undoubtedly affects what audiences thought of the effort.

1998, technologically speaking, was almost a world away. Willis’s character doesn’t carry a cell phone, and the ones that are featured in the film tend to be large, bulky things that don’t get good reception. It’s amazing how much the introduction of this tool has changed the way the world does business – and reacts to threats. However, there are several instances in the movie where all it would have taken was a cell phone to eliminate much of the danger.
Alec Baldwin portrays Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Kudrow, but he’s never shown in uniform and he never seems quite military enough. He’s not even a very good villain in some ways--he’s too urbane, too ready to talk, and just doesn’t threaten enough. He’s there, taking up space and saying the appropriately menacing lines, but he just doesn’t sell the role. Added to that, the way he’s written he’s basically a cipher. Jeffries threatens Kudrow at his birthday party, and even destroys a large amount of his wine collection, and it’s no big deal. The audience isn’t even left with the feeling that Kudrow is going to kill Jeffries for that. Even at the end, when Jeffries suddenly appears out of nowhere to save the day only to have Kudrow capture Simon in a potential standoff, there’s no real feeling that Kudrow is going to in any way succeed. He’s a villain, but he’s had his fangs ripped out long before the movie starts.

Miko Hughes is absolutely wonderful as an autistic youth. Until I saw the extras, I believed that Hughes was autistic in real life. His mannerisms were dead solid perfect. I felt bad for him to be saddled with such a disorder and wondered why anyone would put him in front of a camera. I also wondered how they got him to act before that camera. It wasn’t until I saw him during the interview segments that I realized he was a normal kid who was just an incredible actor for that role.

Kim Dickens’s role as Stacey struck me as being a walk-on role. She’s barely there, and then only to free Jeffries up. Later, she makes the mistake of taking Simon to the bad guys. She never connects with Simon or Jeffries in any meaningful way. Her role is assumed and doesn’t grow or affect the watcher in any real way. Later, at the end of the movie, Stacey and Jeffries appear to be together, but there’s nothing set up to make sure that happens. However, if you look through the deleted scenes, you get the opportunity to see one that was cut that carried a little meat and hinted at the future. But it was too little meat and a heavy-handed hint.

There’s no one I’d rather watch in an action movie than Willis when he’s got his game on. He knows his stuff, and he’s a very intense, physical actor. He gets to show that off in a couple of scenes in this movie, but it’s nowhere near what the “Die Hard” audiences pay to see. As Jeffries, Willis is supposed to be a sympathetic lead. The initial introduction of Jeffries during a bank robber by a state militia group is interesting but gets dropped as soon as it’s over. The only thing that comes out of that is the flashback scene of one of the boys getting killed when the FBI agent in charge decides to rush in. The movie leans on that a little too much because the audience doesn’t know how close Jeffries was to the boys while on his undercover assignment.

Harold Becker has a nice handle on the film visually, though. It’s a pleasure to watch when it comes to the action sequences and the urban areas. The bits on the subway train are well done, intense and close up so that I felt like I was in the middle of it. The problem again is the script. No matter what it looked like on the screen, I knew this was a fight that Jeffries was going to win. There was no other way for the action to take place.

The bar scenes where Jeffries meets Special Agent Thomas “Bizzi” Jordan (Chi McBride) are well done, but get repetitive, especially since we’re never told who the bar owner is, how Jeffries gets permission to go hang out there even after the place is closed, and why the bar owner feels protective toward him.

The climax of the film, with Kudrow capturing Simon on the rooftop and trying to get aboard a helicopter, lacks a lot, though. The scene is too dark, making it hard to get any details. And it’s too small--I never really felt the whole “rooftop” experience. The camera only pulls away a couple times to give us that feel and that view. The scene with the shattering windows and cascading glass is very well done. I loved the visuals and the auditory sequences there. Unfortunately, with the story the way it is, Jeffries doesn’t do anything to knock down this bad guy who’s got a severe comeuppance coming. That’s disappointing.

The video aspect of the HD presentation is crackerjack. The film is smooth and well-defined. Due to the choice of playing the movie basically on small sets, the movie doesn’t have anything amazing to offer in spite of possessing the ability to show it. You can tell the film is HD, but there’s no reason to be happy about having it in high-def.

The audio portion suffers from the same lack. The shootout at the bank, the subway train action, and the helicopter and breaking glass at the end of the movie are all great. They rock and roll right through the surround sound system.

The special features include a series of interviews with all the main stars as well as the director that are really good. They were all shot back when the movie was made. By that time Willis was already well established as a big Hollywood star, but it’s interesting listening to him.

Overall, the movie lacks pacing and characters to push it into a serious success zone. It’s an okay actioner, but only just so because Bruce Willis is onscreen and he can hypnotize an audience at times. The plot is so full of holes you could drive buses through them. That anyone would put a series of important code stuff in a puzzle book is seriously stretching credulity. Add the threat of a lieutenant colonel killing people – especially an autistic child – to cover the fact that the code could be broken by someone who was autistic is ludicrous. The movie plays with a type of paranoia about technology that isn’t quite the same these days. Most people know what encryption is on their computers and deal with it every day.

Simon’s autism is credited for his ability to solve the puzzle and get the secret message that enables him to call the encryption designers. However, we never see that message. Even the threat of the encryption being broken didn’t weigh in. It would mean that all the undercover operatives around the globe might get unmasked, but there was no real threat that was trying to find out all those identities. The threat was given lip service, but that was about it.

“Mercury Rising” is a good no-brainer with enough action to maintain interest. It’s not a film that’s going to pull an audience in and have them hanging on the edges of their seats. Bruce Willis fans might want to add this one to their HD DVD collections, but there’s not much here for others.

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