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'Mercury Rising': Hot Property

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 3, 1998

  Movie Critic

Mercury Rising
Bruce Willis plays an FBI agent on the run with Mike Hughes, who is autistic. (Universal)

"Mercury Rising" satisfies, not in a pro foundly original manner, but perhaps for reasons other than you might expect.

The predictable payoffs are certainly there. It is a formulaic cop thriller, after all, involving a top-secret code and a 9-year-old autistic savant named Simon, but it's a cannily made one at that.

The story, in a nutshell, is a tug of war over Simon (Miko Hughes), who has inadvertently cracked a National Security Agency code known as "Mercury." The NSA wants to eliminate the kid to save face, and jaded FBI agent Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis) is the only one who can save him.

Harold Becker
Bruce Willis;
Alec Baldwin;
Miko Hughes;
Chi McBride;
Kim Dickens;
Mark Collins
Running Time:
2 hours, 10 minutes
Profanity, fisticuffs and coldblooded executions
Willis has become an Everyman superhero. As soon as you see his cool eyes glinting beneath that shaved boulder of a head, you know what to expect (at least you do if you've seen any of his "Die Hard" films). His iconic, granite-like pate seems born to be bruised, but you know he's going to mess up some bad guys in the process.

The first baddie we encounter, though, seems oddly under-matched for Jeffries, who has infiltrated a group of radical separatists holding hostages in a South Dakota bank. On the wide screen, their leader Edgar (Richard Riehle) seems oddly disappointing, almost puny.

But that's because he's not the real bad guy after all. That opening scene is a red herring, and Edgar is only the appetizer for the piece de resistance. Furthermore, Edgar's rage is directed at the federal government, a target that Jeffries can understand, particularly after a SWAT team of feds storms the bank just as he is about to convince Edgar to surrender. (Sound like Ruby Ridge or Waco, anyone?)

Enter the modern villain: Johnny G-man. The evildoer of today's Hollywood is no longer some terrorist with a foreign accent but Uncle Sam himself, in the form of Lt. Col. Nicholas Kudrow, played with seething relish by Alec Baldwin as a pin-striped Defense Department paper pusher.

Now there's a suitable adversary. It's the suit vs. the white T-shirt; Kudrow's pretty-boy face squaring off against Jeffries' unshaven mug; his strangled hiss in contrast to our man's macho rumble.

There's no surer move these days than to tap the national zeitgeist of paranoia about the government. It works for "The X-Files" and it sure works for "Mercury Rising."

Of course, the movie has the obligatory high-speed chase, hand-to-hand combat on a moving train and a gun battle on the roof of a high-rise. All pleasurable in their rote way.

But the real treat is seeing Big Daddy Bruce playing the papa bear part to the little lost boy. Sure, he loves his handgun, but for once Willis seems to enjoy his nurturing side as much as his Glock 19.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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