Rock, The (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It seems that once every dozen-or-so years, Sean Connery has the urge to go back into Bondage. After turning in his tuxedo and Aston Martin following 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, Connery ventured into the acting market as a free agent. His vow to "never again" play 007 held for a little over a decade. Lured back by an enormous sum of money and the offer of limited creative control, Connery returned to Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1983, with the "unofficial" Bond entry, Never Say Never Again. Now, in 1996's The Rock, the veteran actor has once more come home to the action genre. Granted, his character is called John Mason, not James Bond, but Connery plays him exactly as he might portray a sixty- something version of the world-renowned British spy.

The Rock is the summer of 1996's first "traditional" action film. There are no tornadoes to chase or dragons to slay, and, while the plot certainly isn't Dostoevsky, it beats Mission Impossible's swiss-cheese-like storyline hands down. There's some wry humor amidst all the wreckage from car chases and missile strikes, and a few of the characters are allowed to break through their stereotypical boundaries. Not surprisingly, the energy level is high, and there's plenty of action, ranking this film alongside Broken Arrow and Executive Decision among the year's best high-adrenaline offerings.

As is often the case with action films, a simple premise is the most effective. Here, it's that a group of ex-Marines have stolen 15 VX gas rockets and are threatening to launch a lethal strike on the San Francisco Bay area if their demands aren't met. Led by war hero and living legend, Brigadier General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris), the crack platoon has holed up on Alcatraz, where they're holding 81 civilians hostage. The U.S. government responds by sending a troop of Navy SEALS on a secret raid, using the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the island as their entranceway. Their guide is the only man ever to escape from the legendary prison: ex-SAS operative, John Mason (Connery). Also in the party is FBI agent Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage), an admitted "chemical superfreak" who has the knowledge and experience to defuse Hummel's rockets.

The cast is first rate. Nicolas Cage, last year's Best Actor Oscar winner, doesn't excel as an action hero, but he's a good enough performer to forge a likable character. Ed Harris portrays a surprisingly sympathetic bad guy. Unlike most villains in this sort of movie, his Hummel isn't greedy or mad -- just angry. He's championing a cause ("this isn't about terrorism -- it's about justice"), and feels that drastic action is the only way to get people to listen to him. David Morse, who left an impression in last year's The Crossing Guard, is Hummel's right-hand man. John Spencer portrays the FBI director, Michael Biehn is the SEAL team leader, and Vanessa Marcil is Goodspeed's pregnant fiancee, who has been placed in harm's way.

But the real standout is, of course, Connery. Having lost none of his charisma with age, the veteran actor puts to use his mastery of mixing humor and action. Just like Bond, Mason does all his shooting and battling with tongue in cheek. Along the way, he develops a nice rapport with Goodspeed, with the two actors clicking in the best "buddy movie" fashion.

The Rock's running time could have been trimmed. There's no reason for it to last a bloated one-hundred thirty-five minutes (unless it's trying to rival the Bond films for length). Much of the early, character-building material could have been shortened without damaging the complexity of the principal trio, and certain aspects of the script might have benefiting from a little tightening up. Flaws aside, however, The Rock still represents a loud, fast-paced night's worth of entertainment. There are all the expected shoot-outs, explosions, and death-defying stunts. Director Michael Bay (Bad Boys) doesn't break new ground, but he displays his command of the genre by keeping the familiar from becoming boring. His steals from Quentin Tarantino (a master of theft in his own right) and others fit seamlessly into this movie.

Producers Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson have a highly-successful resume that includes Top Gun and Crimson Tide. The Rock will add more luster to that reputation. Since Twister and Mission Impossible are losing a fraction of their tremendous momentum, The Rock is poised to storm past them. With Connery, Cage, Harris, and a host of harrowing action sequences, this is the kind of breath-stealing summer entertainment that audiences crave. Although not as expertly-crafted as Die Hard or Speed, The Rock is exhausting in its own right -- and that's just one of several convincing reasons to see this film.

Rock, The (United States, 1996)

Run Time: 2:15
U.S. Release Date: 1996-06-07
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1