After seeing Bruce Willis' latest flick, Mercury Rising, I started thinking about reincarnation. Not because the movie has anything to do with it, but because Willis keeps coming back in film after film as the same kind of character the break-the-rules cop who exhibits enough vulnerability that we're supposed to like him. He rescues some weaker innocent, gets beat up, shot at, and then throws the bad guy off a building at the end.
I'm a bit rusty on my metaphysics, but as I understand some ideas of reincarnation, we keep getting reborn on the same level of existence until we get it right, learn the lessons we're supposed to learn, and then we can move toward perfection.
Well, at the rate he's going, Bruce is going to be stuck on this plane for a while, particularly given his latest project.
In this incarnation of his screen persona, Bruce is a psychologically wounded, disillusioned FBI agent (gosh! What a surprise!) who has to save a nine-year-old autistic savant named Simon (Miko Hughes) who's particular gift allows him to crack a super code the NSA developed to protect its far-flung network of double agents. To test the code's security, two of the agency's cryptographers inserted it into a word-search puzzle published in a magazine; when their boss (Alex Baldwin) learns of their test, and the fact that Simon solved it, he commissions a ruthless hitman to kill both Simon and his parents (yeah, I know that's the first reaction I'd have thought of).
Now, I'm a big fan of action pics: Die Hard, the Lethal Weapon series, The Rock or even some of the more maligned films in the genre, like last year's Speed 2 or an earlier Willis bomb, Hudson Hawke and (as long as I'm baring my soul here) even The Last Boy Scout. Sure they're hardly the kind of thing the American Film Institute is going to put on its list of Important Films for its preservation project, but they're not bad diversions.
Mercury Rising, on the other hand, is dull dull dull.
The problem is two-fold.
One, the script needed another, oh, dozen or 15 drafts to get it into shape. Sure, it's filled with clich‚s car chases in heavy traffic, shoot-outs in which innocent bystanders wander between Bruce and the hitman just as Bruce is getting the drop on him, and of course the requisite dense superior officer who, despite Bruce's long history of effective work as an agent, chooses to believe the bad guy's story over Bruce's, meaning that, for the bulk of the film, Bruce is on the lam from the bad guy AND his own FBI buddies who make him number one on their most wanted list.
I suppose, given the form, we could forgive the film its use of those elements, if something else about it was fresh, but it's not. Take, for example, the kid's autism an unusual element, sure, but one the film doesn't really explore. It's as if the filmmakers read, say, a one paragraph description of the condition and constructed dramatic elements around that slight understanding. For example, the kid has a tendency to wander off. Okay, fine, but he does it over and over and over, until it becomes almost laughable. We could say the same for the film's use of the boy's tantrums he doesn't like strangers, Bruce is a stranger to him, and so every time he tries to save the kid from some dangerous situation, the kid throws a full blown, kicking and screaming fit. The first time he does it, fine, it adds an element for tension, since Bruce is, of course, trying to rescue him without the bad guys knowing he's doing it but, again, the film has the kid throw a fit, over and over and over again.
But another problem with the film is that Willis' character doesn't give him much room to flex he shifts between being sad and mad and, sometimes when he really gets to show off his range, he's both at the same time. When a Willis film works it's because it exploits his trademark sense of smart aleck wisecracking humor. (See, for example, his work in Die Hard, or even more interesting, in last year's over-the-top Fifth Element.) But none of that is present here, and his performance is like one of those minimalist New Age pieces by a "composer" of, well, minimal talent. You know: someone discovers that if they keep hitting, say, D two octaves below middle C while holding down the sustain pedal on the piano they can get, like, a real neat sound. For a minute, maybe, it might be interesting, but what makes something like that interesting, really, is our expectation that the piece of music will go somewhere and when it doesn't after five or six minutes, we begin to get very annoyed and want to slam the lid down on their fingers so they can't play again for a long time.
But Mercury Rising goes on for a helluva a lot longer than five or six minutes, and never really goes anywhere interesting.
I don't know, maybe Willis' next role will be his redemption, will get him moved to a higher plane of cinematic existence, closer to perfection.
His next pic is Armageddon.
by Joe Schuster
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