About The Rock, the newest model off the summer assembly line, I have just one question: Why Alcatraz? The plot — concerning a terrorist’s threat to launch poisonous rockets at a major city — could, in theory, take place anywhere. But Alcatraz is a cool location and The Rock (the nickname for the long-defunct prison) is a cool title, so the terrorists set themselves up in Alcatraz. Makes perfect sense. Hey, it’s summer.
The terrorist in question is Ed Harris, a disgruntled Marine furious at the government for their failure to honor the soldiers who died under his command. Instead of going on 60 Minutes, as some real-life military men with a similar complaint did recently, Harris points four missiles loaded with VX gas at San Francisco and demands reparations to the tune of $100 million. So it’s Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage to the rescue. Cage, a chemical-explosives expert, and Connery, the only man who has ever escaped from Alcatraz (well, him and Clint Eastwood), infiltrate the Rock and try to disarm the missiles. They also make sure to get into a gunfight every so often.
This is all entirely as synthetic as it sounds. Director Michael Bay (who did last year’s hit Bad Boys) is a graduate of the MTV Mixmaster school of action filmmaking, which teaches that rapid-fire, unscannable editing makes the carnage more exciting. It doesn’t, and much of the action feels thin and inauthentic. Essentially, if you’ve seen the trailer for The Rock, you’ve seen the movie.
What you don’t see in the trailer are the performances of Connery and Cage, who are both reasons enough to see almost anything. Connery has perfected his grizzled-old-lion schtick. No other actor can match his wry authority. Yet he’s also in something of a rut. Connery hasn’t been really surprising since his comic turn in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He’s great at what he does here, but he needs to try something else.
Cage, on the other hand, is up for anything, whether it’s munching a cockroach in Vampire’s Kiss (watch for the in-joke reference to it early in The Rock) or drinking himself to death. In The Rock, Cage has the guts to play a wimp — a guy who’s been in the rear with the gear too long — and he hits wild notes of fear and hysteria. He’s the sanest man on the screen, and maybe his honest performance makes Sean Connery’s testosterone look worse than the filmmakers intended.
As for Alcatraz itself, I was surprised how little was really done with it. It could be just any big building with catacombs and bars. And the terrorists could be any terrorists. This was the last production of Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson, and like most of their hits, it’s thoroughly impersonal. The Rock will likely make Nicolas Cage more bankable, but I can’t work up much enthusiasm for it. Its box-office glory will be the latest triumph of low expectations and low standards.