a critiQal film review Mercury Rising (1998)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Renegade FBI agent Art Jeffries (Willis) must protect an autistic child (Hughes) who has inadvertently cracked a secret government code.

597 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 59s)

As fellow action star Arnold Schwarzenegger did 5 years earlier in Last Action Hero (1993), Bruce Willis adds a kid to the mix for his 1998 action thriller, Mercury Rising. Again, I wasn’t sure if that was such a good idea. But, after re-watching Last Action Hero (1993) lately, I decided to give the more serious kid-added Mercury Rising another shot. Would the kid aspect add to Bruce Willis’ action star appeal? Or was Mercury Rising a bad decision for Willis?

Unlike Arnold, Willis has always managed to combine drama and action into his action pics, and is able to make both work. Half the fun of Die Hard (1988) is Willis’ ability to convey the idea that his character is no super cop – he’s just an average cop caught up in extreme circumstances. Like McClane, Willis’ character in Mercury Rising isn’t some larger-than-life FBI super agent. He’s just a regular cop, whose passion – undercover work – has been denied to him. He’s now working his way through the scutwork assignments. Willis still can play the hero-in-over-his-head scenario well, and his frustration at piecing together the clues still helps him connect with the viewer. That’s despite the laughably ridiculous situation he finds himself mixed up in.

Willis manages to grab the audience’s attention. But, it’s Miko Hughes, playing the autistic young Simon, that keeps it. Delivering a spot-on performance in his role, he gets the viewer emotionally invested in the story…helping them forget how thin the plot actually is.

Alec Baldwin has been one of the most over-rated stars for years. He proves this again in Mercury Rising as he delivers a sub-par villainous performance. As a rogue NSA agent willing to risk everything to protect the code that has made him a star, he doesn’t do much except look his usually overly slick self. While his minions are able to shoot their way into the viewer’s bad graces, his lead villain doesn’t really do anything to stand out. All he does is spew some laughable lines about being a patriot to his country. Ooh…scary.

Unfortunately, Baldwin, unlike Willis and Hughes, doesn’t distract from the film’s paper thin plot. The viewer, instead will find their time spent during Alec’s screen time concentrating on how ridiculous the story actually is. After inventing a new supercode, some NSA brainiacs decide to then publish their new, unbreakable code in a word games and puzzle magazine available to the general public. When someone breaks it, all the stops are pulled out to wipe that person off the face of the earth. This is despite the fact he’s an autistic young boy whose code-solving skills would have otherwise gone completely unnoticed. Then there’s an inept assassin who can’t manage to eliminate his unsuspecting target several times. Yet, he is never punished by the unscrupulous bosses who ordered a hit on the innocent young boy in the first place. The holes in Mercury Rising are big enough to drive through.

Unfortunately, that means that despite an impressive performance by Miko Hughes, and another average-Joe-in-over-his-head showing by Bruce Willis, Mercury Rising is never really able to get the viewer’s suspension of disbelief it so desperately needs. Instead, viewers are subjected to subplots – including the saint-like kindness of female strangers – that just add to the film’s series of laughable missteps. With Baldwin’s bland villain bringing things down further, it’s a wonder if viewers will have any positive impressions left after finally seeing Mercury Rising through to it’s end.

It’s a shame that Miko’s brilliant performance is wasted in such an otherwise quickly-forgettable film like Mercury Rising.

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