Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel


MERCURY RISING (1998) *


Directed by Harold Becker. Written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, based on the novel "Simple Simon" by Ryne Douglas Peardon. Photography, Michael Seresin. Editing, Peter Honess. Production design, Patrizia von Brandenstein. Music,John Barry. Cast: Bruce Willis (Art Jeffries), Alec Baldwin (Nicholas Kudrow), Miko Hughes (Simon), Chi McBride (Tommy B. Jordan), Kim Dickens (Stacey), et al. A Universal release. 131 minutes. Rated R (violence)

There were two previews for summer 1998 movies at the screening of "Mercury Rising" : for "Lethal Weapon 4" and for "Black Dog," both depressingly familiar with their ever-lasting, dumbing-the-public scenes of supercops, blazing guns, bloodshed, spectacular (ugh!) car crashes, in short, Men With Guns and Wheels. Then, adding to this hopeless state of things, came the feature, an inferior Bruce Willis vehicle.

In search of at least one new twist, "Mercury Rising" invents Simon, a 9-year old autistic kid in Chicago. He is played by Miko Hughes who must be 12, since, debuting at age 2, he has been in 10 movies (plus TV) in the last 10 years.

Knowing too little about autism I cannot judge the realism of Simon's portrayal. No matter. Although given a very limited range of things to do -- mostly sadly peculiar facial expressions and body-language, and minimal speech-- young Miko does better than anyone else in the cast. But he can't steal the show, because there is nothing to steal.

Art Jeffries (Willis) is an undercover FBI agent who has infiltrated some South Dakota fundamentalists. He's with them during a bank robbery. A small army of lawmen surrounds them, and kill them all by not following Jeffries's instructions that would lead to a bloodless surrender.Seething with rage Willis roughs up the FBI leader. All this is plotted unconvincingly.

The result is two-fold. Jeffries, now deemed unusable as an undercover specialist, is stuck with more ordinary duties; and he will be pursued by visions of the youngest of the dead Dakotans.

A kindly therapist gives autistic Simon a book of puzzles. Glancing at a page of letters, numbers and symbols, he discovers in a flash a hidden telephone number, calls it and contacts two nerdy fellows in a computer/communications room. The guys panic.

Explained as muddily and stupidly as possible, it turns out that they are employees of the NSA (National Security Agency), and are somehow involved (don't ask) with a state of the art new code ("Mercury"), which they had decided to test by including it in a puzzle book. (It all makes no sense, whether in broad lines or specifics).The nerds, terrified as Big Boss Lt. Colonel Kudrow.gives them hell, come up with streams of reasons and excuses in 80 mph technobabble that is impossible to understand.

The code is the project of NSA's Kudrow. He is livid. Deciphering the cryptographed messages will result in the death of hordes of American (and friendly foreign) operatives throughout the known universe. Without a second thought he orders the execution of Simon. A killer pumps bullets into Simon's father and mother, but no one can find the boy. Yet when Jeffries, called in as a matter of routine, arrives on the scene of the murders, he locates the kid (don't ask) hiding in the house.

Somehow (again, don't ask) aware of the hunt for Simon, Jeffries becomes his rescuer, savior and protector as he drags the child through mega-improbable action-adventures about which the least said, the better.

The movie must have been written by a bank of computers on automatic pilot. If it is about secret intelligence, it sure shows no human brains, hidden or in plain sight. Its high tech is high dreck. Willis uses about three of his habitual six expressions; Baldwin follows suit. Both men are getting plumpish. But while Willis is always hot and dressed in sweaty t-shirts and jeans, Baldwin is cool and fashionably dressed.

If you do not understand or accept the plot and its details, do not worry. But if you do, you might wish to undergo a brain-scan. Do not worry either about the alphabet soup of Government or other organizations (NSA, FBI, CIA, CBS, NRA, UF0, STP, TBA, PTA, etc.) There's a kernel here of what might have been shaped into a different movie, about rivalries, mutual undercutting and the like, but it is not exploited.

At a Washington, D.C, reception "chez" Kudrow, his popularity with the Establishment is established. During that same party comes the first encounter between hero and villain in the latter's dream-cellar. Grungy Willis guzzles from a bottle of Chateau Petrus, a great French wine, then vengefully brings down racks of liquid gold. It's in the Hollywood tradition of the good plebeian rising against the nasty upper-class fellow.

I rate "MR" as one-star rather than zero for these reasons. My pity for poor Miko Hughes having to act in a role hard on his face and body; the pretty good production values in Chicago, albeit in cliches ; the small female roles are not given to gorgeous dames; and especially because that with all the high tech premise, the solution comes from a low tech sheet of carbon paper.

Otherwise, "MR" is a yawner, dumb, uninvolving and worst of all, unpleasant.

" Le mauvais gout mene au crime" (Stendhal)

Edwin Jahiel's movie reviews are at edwinjahiel.com


Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel