Critics' Corner

Hal Hinson - Style section,
"The movie deteriorates into a long commercial for the home-game version of itself."

Desson Howe - Weekend section, "A violence-intoxicated, far-fetched, morally corrupt drama."

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'The Rock' Sinks Quickly

Scene from this movie Most films featuring this (supposedly) impregnable fortress have been about busting out. This one flips the premise on its head-it's about busting in.

The action commences when Brig. Gen. Francis Xavier Hummel (Ed Harris), a much-respected veteran of innumerable conflicts and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, declares war on the U.S. government.
-- Hal Hinson
Rated R

Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Sean Connery; Nicolas Cage; Ed Harris; Michael Biehn; William Forsythe; John C. McGinley; Claire Forlani; Vanessa Marcil
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Filmographies: Sean Connery; Nicolas Cage; Ed Harris; Claire Forlani

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'The Rock' Bottom

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 07, 1996

Close to the end of "The Rock," Sean Connery says to Nicolas Cage, "I suppose all this will make a great bedtime story to tell your kid." He's dead wrong. This action picture, in which Connery and Cage try to prevent a squad of psycho Marines from bombing San Francisco with nerve gas, is the nastiest thing anyone could inflict on a child. Even for adults, the movie's a violence-intoxicated, far-fetched, morally corrupt drama that sinks like a . . . you know.

"The Rock" has its minor good points, chiefly the bantering, odd-buddy relationship between the two principals. Connery is John Patrick Mason, a British agent for Her Majesty's Secret Service who has been secretly jailed for 30 years without trial for stealing all of J. Edgar Hoover's secret files, including Who Really Shot JFK. Cage plays the goofy Stanley Goodspeed, a biological warfare expert for the FBI.

They're thrown together because commandos, led by Brigadier General Francis Xavier Hummel (Ed Harris), have stormed Alcatraz, carrying 15 V.X. poison gas missiles. After locking 81 tourists into the fortress's infamous cells, the elite force makes its demands known. They want mega-remuneration for the families of soldiers who have died unrewarded during covert operations from Vietnam through Operation Desert Storm.

The usual cast of harried power players (Pentagon and FBI officials, a young, obnoxious White House chief of staff, etc.) have to pony up millions of dollars or watch helplessly as five million San Franciscans implode from inhaling toxic gas. The government immediately dispatches a force of U.S. Navy SEALs to storm the citadel from the sea. Goodspeed, who can neutralize the missiles, and Mason, the only prisoner to successfully escape from Alcatraz, are sent to lead the mission.

The cliches pile up like rubble, while a cast of familiar action figures-including William Forsythe, Michael Biehn and John C. McGinley-slips and slides all over them. (Don't these people get bored playing buffed up goons or snarling special agents?) Hack-director Michael Bay, whose single, stellar credit is "Bad Boys," deserves special mention for his production team's nauseating close-up shots, annoyingly frenetic editing and bevy of tedious familiarities, from those clattering, digital titles (as in "15 HOURS TO DEADLINE") to a San Francisco car chase that leaves an incendiary heap of destroyed automobiles, upset fruit carts and one overturned streetcar.

It should come as no surprise that this "Diehard" on the rocks was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson, who seem to have made every convoluted, noisy movie since "Beverly Hills Cop." This film continues their tradition of hyperbole, climax overdose and creative sleaze, including a gratuitous firefight between opposing troops that's full of slow motion shots, mournful battle music and mind-numbing loss of life.

There's a laughable attempt to personalize the two heroes. Just before he gets word of the Alcatraz undertaking, Goodspeed is informed by his girlfriend Carla (Vanessa Marcil) that she's pregnant. He agrees to marry her. Not yet knowing what the mission's all about, she follows him to San Francisco. Now Goodspeed has really got something to fight for.

After escaping from his FBI handlers (he's initially unwilling to participate in the Alcatraz thing) and smashing his way through the city (in that fiery car chase), Mason screeches to a halt outside the door of his estranged daughter Jade (Claire Forlani), tracks her down, then tries to explain his 30-year absence.

"I'm not an evil man," he tells the daughter he hasn't seen since she was 9. "If you can believe that, then it's a start."

If you could believe anything in this movie, it would be a start. As for this artificial father-daughter scene, it's not enough that the filmmakers pummel your brain with violent cliches; they've got to make you cringe too.

THE ROCK (R) - Contains sexual situations, profanity, major violence and graphic reactions to nerve gas.

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'Rock': Alcatrazmatazz

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 07, 1996

At the end of "The Rock," the adventure thriller starring Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage, we're informed that the film is dedicated to the loving memory of Don Simpson, the infamous producer who died during production. In reality, though, the homage begins as soon as the lights go down.

In style, substance and star power, "The Rock" offers precisely the same infinitely marketable, high-octane mix of buff sex, Top 40 rock and hard-core action that Simpson and his partner Jerry Bruckheimer calibrated to near-perfection in such '80s milestones as "Flashdance" and "Top Gun."

The movie's setting is Alcatraz, the legendary island prison floating unceremoniously off San Francisco. And if most films featuring this (supposedly) impregnable fortress have been about busting out, this one flips the premise on its head-it's about busting in.

The action commences when Brig. Gen. Francis Xavier Hummel (Ed Harris), a much-respected veteran of innumerable conflicts and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, declares war on the U.S. government.

For years, Hummel and his men have done the military's dirty work, running sensitive and usually illegal operations on foreign soil. And, for years, the general has been outraged over having to lie to the families of the soldiers who went down during those missions. After exhausting every legal means, Hummel snaps and goes over to the "dark side." He and his crack force of Vietnam and Persian Gulf war vets hijack a cache of rockets armed with deadly nerve gas, set up command on "the Rock," and point their warheads right where Tony left his heart.

In order to save the city (and the 81 tourists the general holds hostage inside the prison), the FBI must find a way to reach the terrorists through the maze of tunnels beneath the heavily defended facility. And, so, to get into Alcatraz, the authorities stake their bets on the only man to ever make it out of there alive.

His name is John Mason (Connery), an agent with British intelligence whom the feds have had locked away for 30 years on an unrelated matter. After Mason leads his team to the rockets, the plan is for FBI chemical-biological weapons expert Stanley Goodspeed (Cage) to dismantle them.

Simpson and Bruckheimer worked closely with the armed services during the making of "The Rock," as they had previously on both "Top Gun" and "Crimson Tide." As a result, the team's allegiance to overwhelming force has never been more overwhelming. Directed like a music-video Gotterdammerung by Michael Bay ("Bad Boys"), "The Rock" doesn't mess around with seduction, it simply takes you by storm.

Initially, the audacious muscularity of the images and the pace of the action are dizzying; after a while, though, Bay and screenwriters David Weisberg, Douglas S. Cook and Mark Rosner forget about everything except the semi-suspenseful ticking of the clock.

If, at odd moments, "The Rock" is better than tolerable, it is usually because of its stars. On paper, the thought of Connery and Cage as macho sidekicks carried a certain palpable potential for disaster; it could go either way. On screen, however, they look as if they were born to it, with the Scot's terse professionalism providing the perfect counterweight to Cage's crazed spritzing.

Connery-who makes his entrance looking more like Methuselah than James Bond-remains one of the few truly indelible star actors alive. Like Bogart, like Tracy, Connery is always fully present as himself, regardless of the role. And yet the articulation of each character is clearly defined, singular, with subtle differences in the way each conveys thought, in their gestures and emotions.

A self-described chemical super-freak, Goodspeed is pretty close to normal by Cage's standards. Still, the actor squeezes off one burst of bizarro genius after another. His presense is naturally subversive, and if it weren't for the leavening effect of his mad spiels, the film's testosterone levels might become lethally high.

Director Bay gives the picture a sense of humor, plus a certain adroitness and flash-that is, at least for as long as it continues to function as a film, per se. Ultimately, the movie deteriorates into a long commercial for the home-game version of itself. And, with regard to Simpson and the Simpson/Bruckheimer legacy, this total surrender to merchandising is particularly sad. Whatever you might say about their movies, they were always filmmakers first.

The Rock is rated PG-13.

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