Monday, February 1, 2010

THE ROCK (108)

The Film: The Rock (108)
The Director: Michael Bay (Armageddon (40))

What It Is: A big, stupid action film about an F.B.I. chemist (Nicolas Cage) and the only man to ever escape Alcatraz (Sean Connery) sneaking back on to Alcatraz to stop a team of trained Marines from chemical-attacking San Francisco. Yup, that's what this film is about.

The Expectation: Pretty low. I've seen this film so many times and, as I've said before, the older I got the less I could stomach it. After watching Armageddon (40) again almost two years ago and being stunned in to slumber by how bad it was, I can't say that a revisit to this Cage/Connery duet was anything to keep me awake at night.

The Experience: My Criterion Companion and I had a fairly difficult time plowing through this bloated beast. We'd turn it on and invariably one of us would fall asleep, thus when we returned to the film we'd find ourselves having to back track (not a good thing when you're watching an actioneer from the mid-90s). After four days we finally plopped ourselves down, taped our eyelids back, and drug ourselves through it.

Film Still

1. You sometimes have to question Criterion.

I know seems strange coming from the mouth of such a diehard devotee, but Jesus, this film is crap. When I tell people about the Criterion Quest - people that care, people that dig in and do a little research to find out just what I'm trying to do here - the most asked question is this, "Why is The Rock (108) on the list?" I've tried in the past to argue that Michael Bay's stomach-churning visual onslaught helped to form the horrendous visual onslaughts we now call "big budget pictures". I've tried to argue that in the cardboard characters and cheesy explosions that this film is filled with there's a kernel of merit, a smidgen of good, that perhaps the more brainy film geeks that populate the offices of Criterion could better surmise. But sadly, those words turn to ash in my memories mouth, 'cause this is just a shitty film. No doubt about it, this is a stock actioneer and from what I can discern it was merely a way to draw less adventurous film lovers in to the fold of Criterion. A quick way to make a few bucks in a potentially dire time for the old Criterion Collection. That's all I can think, the only way I can rationalize the appearance of this film in such a collection of at least interesting pictures.

2. You can never trust Nicolas Cage.

He was, possibly is a good actor, but his need for cash and the headline of a big picture has eroded this man's reputation down to the point where a film featuring Nicolas Cage and his beleaguered hairline is not one I'll often see. If you want evidence of where his perilous fall from acting grace occurred, look no further than this film. Nicolas Cage is used here in the exact sort of way we've all become accustomed. He's zany, but not in a good way. Instead his zany antics are mixed with a sort of hyperactive tough guy and the results are jarring and uncomfortable. When Nicolas Cage tells Sean Connery "Cut the chit-chat, a-hole!" I almost turned the film off. With his hair follicles bristling, I was nothing but disturbed at his outburst, knowing that Mr. Cage would be better off reading Spider-Man comics in his dungeon lair than hollering expletives at a septuagenerian Connery.

3. Sean Connery, I don't know.

If this was the beginning of Nic Cage's fall from grace, this is Sean Connery's final flair as a superstar. Before this Connery had floundered in films like A Good Man In Africa and Medicine Man, but here Michael Bay casts him right as a smooth talking, SAS killer just tough enough to outsmart some truly dangerous men. And the audience loved it. The Rock (108) was a big old hit and promptly gave Connery a final lease on his acting life. Which he then squandered on a succession of films that included The Avengers, Playing By Heart, Entrapment, Finding Forrester, and finally, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Perhaps out of all the terrible aspects of this film, there is one silver lining: Connery got another moment in the spotlight.

4. Ed Harris, not bad.

You got to love Ed Harris, c'mon! He's Ed Harris. He's got piercing blue eyes and a chiseled jaw and chews scenery with the best of them. Throw him in camouflage and give him some dicey moral quandaries and you've got yourself an Oscar nominated role. Thus, Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel was downright perfect for him. Cold, cruel, calculating, but tinged with a sense of morality? It just reeks of Ed Harris.

5. San Francisco badly portrayed.

Good God people of Hollywood, I promise you, SF is such a better city than trolley cars, Pier 39, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. There is a bustling, hustling, diverse sprawl of European-style city going on in this big Bay of ours and I'm ashamed that you folk continue to plumb those standard depths. Jesus, film a fucking movie in The Mission, or The Castro, or The Tenderloin, or ... Jesus, just film one goddamn picture that doesn't feature the international orange of the Golden Gate Bridge. Please.

6. Michael Bay, wow.

I saw Transformers a while back and couldn't believe that the man who directed The Rock (108) had also defecated the likes of that picture in to the mainstream. Then you go back and you watch this and you're literally offended by the misogynistic horse shit so readily tossed about in this film and then you realize, "Oh wait, Michael Bay has always been and always will be a terrible director too hung up on visual style to do anything but crank out two hour fight scenes occasionally peppered with horrid dialogue and tepid romance." You'll say that, I promise.

Final Thoughts: If you've seen it once, I'd skip it the second time folks, not worth a minute of your time. Criterion, I waggle my finger at you.


Criterion Counsel: The Scarlet Empress (109), a two hour period piece from the 1930s has arrived at the house, but I'm wary of it. So I'll just sit and stare at it for a few more days. Then hop myself up on caffeine and see if I can keep my eyes open for it.


Strath said...

Your mention of Ed Harris makes me want to see "State of Grace" again.

t.d.g said...

beg your pardon, lady, but nic cage did do a) Adaptation and b) Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans since The Rock. Both are excellent - the latter being tailor-fit to a man who owns a castle in which to smoke his lucky crack pipe.