Michael Bay has done himself no favours in recent years. After massively misjudging the scale of Pearl Harbor and reducing it to no more than a video-game recital of a very important historical event, he will have to work extremely hard to win back the tiny shred of credibility he started out with.

His debut, Bad Boys, was a genre and quality he should stick with if he wants to continue his style of 1000 cuts a second, never-stop-moving-the-camera nonsense. A film with a weak story and weak characters is where he can be at home, truly maxing everything out.

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The Rock, however, has characters with just a touch more depth. It's not necessarily a big story but he seems to stretch it out over two hours with heinously overcut action scenes and extraneous sub-plotting.

General Francis Xavier Hummel (Ed Harris) takes over Alcatraz with some poisonous gas rockets and aims them at San Francisco with the intention of vaporising everyone unless the families of each member of his dead team - what team? - is paid $1,000,000. I mean, if he is prepared to do that then why not just sell them to some militia, or freedom fighter group?

A nerdy and heavily bored FBI agent, named Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage), is called to San Francisco from Washington to observe and instruct the inevitable SEAL operation to overthrow the Marines on Alcatraz. But wait, there's more. Alcatraz is a maze of twisted metal and broken walls. They won't stand a chance without someone who has knowledge of how to break out. Or break in.

And so enters the philosophising and lanky-haired John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery) at about 45 minutes into the movie. He's been in jail for 30 years and doesn't have an extreme reaction at having to work for the very people who have held him without trial for so long. There is an utterly pointless and indulgent car chase before he actually gets down to business. And it's a car chase in San Francisco, so you know what that means.

Once on the island, the SEALS, as predicted, are crap and get killed instantly. So, basically, Hummel wants to honour his fallen comrades by killing more American soldiers. How absurd. Plus these SEALS have thoroughly extensive training and, in real life, there is NO WAY they'd end up being so useless.

Goodspeed and Mason are not a great pairing. Cage cannot make Goodspeed likeable no matter how skilled an actor he may be. He's a complete coward. Annoying. Unfunny. The words he says don't sound right coming from his mouth. When he tries to be tough, he just seems ridiculous. Mason is just an old James Bond. Hell, he's even a British Secret Agent. The role was written with Connery in mind, so don't expect anything but his elite brand of OAP smart-ass cool.

They involve themselves in a variety of set-pieces before being captured by Hummel, who's mission is not going well. The FBI doesn't want to cough up the money and would rather flatten Alcatraz and its 81 civilian hostages than part company with a few million dollars. Nice. This subplot is, of course, used to generate tension and excitement and to goose up the already overstuffed turkey that is the plot.

Coherent editing is not this movie's strength. In fact, coherence is hardly something one would associate with The Rock. There are so many distractions and superfluous plot points that the only way Bay can compensate is to turn every scene into an MTV blur. The target audience is familiar with this kind of filmmaking anyway, which results in The Rock becoming a huge, clumsy, oafish movie, with little in the way of sense or reality.

There are a few entertaining aspects though. Hans Zimmer's score is truly um... rocking. The supporting cast is interesting and delivers far more tolerable performances than Cage or Connery. Some of the Alcatraz sets are nice to look at, as well. But, if this is the best thing one can say about an action movie, then one needs to consider something else.

Released in the June, 1996, The Rock is inferior and less engaging than a similar movie released the month before. Executive Decision attempts the same theme and an identical form of tension. In 135 minutes, it wastes no time on subplotting, develops far more likeable characters and is way more exciting.

Exec Dec is played straight. The Rock is played to look cool and hip. It's not.

Reviewed on: 13 Jul 2002
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FBI boffin Nicolas Cage and grizzled lifer Sean Connery save Alcatraz from wacko army general.
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Director: Michael Bay

Writer: David Weisberg, Douglas Cook. Mark Rosner

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Ed Harris, David Morse, William Forsythe, Michael Biehn, John Spencer, John C McGinley, Tony Todd, Claire Forlani, Philip Baker Hall

Year: 1996

Runtime: 135 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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Executive Decision