Mercury Rising

Mercury Rising

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The history of any nation's defense is stained with the blood of the innocent. When murder happens, out of the cold, you cannot believe that anything so shocking is real. The bad guys in Mercury Rising could well be CIA operatives. In fact, they are NSA (National Security Agency), prepared to assassinate ordinary Americans to safeguard their spy protection programme.

If you accept this concept and believe that Lt Col Kudrow (Alec Baldwin), NSA's top honcho, would order a pro killer to take out an entire family in suburban Chicago because an autistic 10-year-old (Miko Hughes) has cracked an unbreakable code, you will enjoy the tension and thrill to the pace of an above average chase movie, with Bruce Willis doing his thing exactly as he likes it. If not, you may have problems.

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Art Jeffries (Willis) is an undercover FBI agent, who has been demoted after a hostage situation went awry. He's a paranoid loner - the usual. People like him are suckers for conspiracy theories. When he discovers Simon, the autistic boy, at the scene of a crime, his messed-up instincts go red alert. He doesn't know about NSA, or codes, or an ex-Special Service sharpshooter at this stage. He thinks something odd's going on and the kid, who can hardly communicate, is in danger. Quite soon, the two of them are on the run from bad guys and good guys alike. You've been here before.

You won't mind coming here again. Having children at the centre of dramatic events (Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World, with Kevin Costner, comes to mind) can get sticky. There is always the yuk factor, an emotional hook that snags the action, slowing it down. In this case, Harold Becker is dealing with the locked-in world of autism. With the help of Hughes' terrific performance and Willis' well known ability to hold back gush floods, excitement is not compromised. Baldwin has little to do but look smarmy and wrestle on a rooftop. The introduction of potential love interest (Kim Dickens) works quite well. She is borrowed as a babysitter at a particular tense moment and then hangs around, not for the unwashed, unshaven FBI-in-the-field experience, but because her own life's pretty dull.

This is formula fare. Nothing wrong with that when it's given serious treatment. The idea of the boy savant is interesting. Willis needs a bath, but he's always looked more comfortable in Die Hard designer wear. The difficulty is believing Kudrow. Baldwin doesn't help. You have to understand that power corrupts. Think Joe S. Think Saddam. In the NSA? Think J Edgar Hoover.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Mercury Rising packshot
Bruce Willis's undercover agent steps in to protect a nine-year-old autistic boy who has cracked a top-secret code.
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Director: Harold Becker

Writer: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal

Starring: Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Miko Hughes, Chi McBride, Kim Dickens, Robert Stanton, Bodhi Elfman, Carrie Preston, Lindsey Ginter, Peter Stormare, Kevin Conway

Year: 1998

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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The Jackal