As in EXECUTIVE DECISION, we have another movie where part of the
entire country may die, but the President is basically AWOL and his
aides and the military brass handle all the decisions. This film is
called THE ROCK and rather than wipe out a mass of humanity with
nuclear weapons, this time it is chemical weapons so lethal than a
teaspoon in the air kills everyone in an eight block radius. To get
large audiences these days you must threaten the lives of hundreds of
thousands, a couple of dozen I guess is considered passe.
In an extremely well cast movie we have Ed Harris playing the
major bad guy, U. S. Brigadier General Francis Xavier Hummel. Of
course, it is our government and not him to blame. As he explains it,
"The men in military special ops are selected to carry out illegal
operations throughout the world. When they don't come home, their
families are told fairy tales about what happened and denied
compensation. All my career I've choked on these lines. Well, here
and now the lies stop." Later he quotes Thomas Jefferson in justifying
his behavior saying, "The tree of liberty from time to time must be
watered by the blood of patriots."
General Hummel turns a bunch of our soldiers into mercenaries.
They kill large numbers of people securing the chemical weapons called
V. X. nerve gas. Once they have it, they take over Alcatraz. While
holding 81 hostages there, they position four rockets to fire V. X.
over San Francisco unless they get $100,000,000 in 40 hours. Like
Robin Hood, they are only going to keep part of loot and give the rest
to the relatives of soldiers who have died in other covert missions.
The best part of the show is Nicolas Cage as Dr. Stanley
Goodspeed, a chemical and biological weapons expert, and Sean Connery
as John Patrick Mason, a non-person who once escaped from The Rock.
Mason was in the British secret service, but did something that caused
our government to incarcerate him for the rest of his life in total
secrecy. The only problem is that he is an escape specialist and keeps
breaking out of the prisons where he is put. They let him out of
prison so he can help them sneak into The Rock with a special forces
Before Goodspeed and Mason go to The Rock for the big rescue, they
have an excessively long car chase through the streets of San
Francisco. In this highly derivative film the writers try for a small
twist by having it be a yellow Ferrari chasing a Hummer. Among other
over the top special effects we have a cable car blown straight in the
air and fly over head. The director (Michael Bay) looks like he had
too much money and wanted to spend it all. As I was having fun, I kept
thinking of all of the great films made with small budgets that have
something to say and yet it is these, admittedly enjoyable, escapist
entertainment pictures that bring out the crowds.
The script by Douglas S. Cook, John Hensleigh, and David Weisberg
is preposterous and overly dramatic, but funny. Typical of the humor
is an interchange between an exhausted Goodspeed and Mason during one
of the action scenes. Goodspeed asks, "You enjoying this?" Mason
smiling says, "Well it's certainly better than my average day, reading
Shakespeare and avoiding gang rape in the washroom." When they finally
get to Alcatraz, Mason starts droning on about the prison's past. This
irritates Goodspeed who tells him, "I like history too. Maybe when
this is over we can to the souvenir shop. Right now I want to find
some rockets." Finally, Mason explains his qualifications as, "I have
a unique knowledge of this prison facility. I was formerly a guest
Beside the excellent acting by the three leads. There are scores
and scores of good actors in minor roles, including, but not limited to
Commander Anderson (Michael Biehn), Eddie Paxton (William Forsythe),
Major Tom Baxter (David Morse), FBI Director Womack (John Spencer),
Captain Hendrix (John C. Mcginley), Captain Darrow (Tony Todd),
Sergeant Crisp (Bokeem Woodbine), Special Agent Shepard (Danny Nucci),
and Captian Frye (Gregory Sporleder).
The editing (Richard Francis-Bruce) is too choppy in the
beginning, but the cinematography (John Schwartzman) is striking
throughout. The San Francisco scenes have lush, bright colors and the
Alcatraz ones are full of a warm radiance. If anything, they make the
prison seem almost too pretty. There are a few cute cinematographic
tricks. The most dramatic is the quick cut to an extreme close up of a
THE ROCK runs about 2 hours. It is rated R. There is a little
sex, no nudity, a fair amount of bad language, and lots of gory deaths.
It would fine for most teenagers. As an action film, this movie
delivers the goods, but the best part is the acting. This is a well
made piece of escapism that I recommend to you, but warn you not to
make the mistake of engaging your brain during the show. Go with the
flow and you will enjoy it.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes