[Screen It]


(1998) (Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
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Smoking Tense Family
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Suspense/Drama: An FBI agent must protect a nine-year-old autistic child from government officials who want the boy eliminated after he unknowingly breaks a top-secret military code.
Nine-year-old Simon Lynch (MIKO HUGHES) is an autistic savant. Barely able to communicate with the outside world, he spends his time solving puzzles with amazing speed and ease. After deciphering a top-secret military code, nicknamed Mercury, that had been placed in a puzzle magazine for last-minute, redundant quality control, however, Simon's world suddenly changes forever.

Although the writers of the code, Dean Crandell (ROBERT STANTON) and Leo Pedranski (BODHI PINE ELFMAN), never figured anyone could break it, Simon calls in with the answer. Shocked, they immediately report the breach to their supervisor, Nicholas Kudrow (ALEC BALDWIN), a high-ranking NSA official, who orders that the boy and his family be assassinated to insure national security.

The boy's parents are murdered, but Simon manages to hide until he's later found by F.B.I. agent Art Jeffries (BRUCE WILLIS). Formerly an undercover agent, Jeffries has recently been relegated to routine operations after being labeled as delusional by his superiors. Assigned to investigate the double homicide, Jeffries intuitively knows the boy is also in danger. After learning that someone ordered the police surveillance dropped at the local hospital, Jeffries takes Simon and goes on the run.

Suddenly, he's now wanted for kidnaping, and no one will believe his theory that someone's trying to kill the boy. Getting reluctant help from his fellow agent, Tommy B. Jordon (CHI McBRIDE) and Stacey (KIM DICKENS), a stranger woman he has just met, Jeffries does what he must to protect the boy, expose the bad NSA officials, and keep from being killed by Burell (L.L. GINTER), Kudrow's assassin.

If they're fans of Bruce Willis films, they might, but it's doubtful many preteens will want to see it.
For violence and language.
  • BRUCE WILLIS plays an FBI agent who will risk anything and everything to protect a young, autistic boy.
  • ALEC BALDWIN plays an NSA official who orders that boy, his family, and anyone else connected to the secret code killed in order to save thousands of others' lives (his own personal justification).


    OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
    Call it "Rainman Witness" for combining elements of two other popular movies, but "Mercury Rising" isn't likely to raise temperatures in theaters this spring. A tepid thriller that works on the most basic level, this movie surprisingly feels rather flat throughout most of the production despite a few standard-issue action set pieces. Willis fans will have to wait until his "big" movie, "Armageddon," arrives this summer hoping that picture will turn out better.

    Essentially a combo of "Witness," where a cop takes a boy under his wings to protect him from the "bad guys," and "Rainman," where the main character's efforts are hampered by a communicably challenged, autistic person, the film both benefits from, and is hurt by its construction. Putting an autistic child in harm's way easily and quickly generates audience sympathy, and the fact that Willis' character puts his career and life at risk for the boy makes him A-Ok in our books.

    Yet, since this film only uses autism as an obstacle for the main character -- instead of allowing him to learn and change as did Tom Cruise's character in "Rainman" -- the film simply becomes a standard issue suspense flick. When not carrying the screaming, flailing child under his arm, the good cop (or FBI agent, as it is) must avoid the bad cop (or NSA assassin) until the final confrontation where the good guy not surprisingly, and of course quite predictably, wins.

    Beyond that, the film's biggest problem is that director Harold Becker ("Sea of Love," "City Hall") and screenwriters Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal ("The Jewel of the Nile," "Star Trek VI,") haven't given Art much to do other than run and hide. Audiences traditionally like proactive heroes who figure out how to stop the bad guys. Here, however, Willis must rely on others to bring him info, and the end result is that the film never gains much momentum.

    Another problem lies with the film's villains. Kudrow, the high-ranking NSA official, is all slick and polished and can bark out the orders to have people rubbed out, but since he only has two scenes interacting with Willis' character, the expected fireworks are kept at a minimum. Instead, we get an essentially mute assassin who looks mean and shoots a few people, but that's about it. Heroes are usually only as good as the villains they must defeat, and since these guys only pop out of the woodwork every so often, the film isn't allowed to really take off.

    There is also some ridiculous material, such as the NSA bad guys always being able to find Art and Simon (yes, they're the NSA, but unless they're associated with the Psychic Hotline, they'd have a hard time finding them so easily and so often). Plus, there's no way in one scene that Art would return Simon to his home knowing full well that the killers might think of that too. The only reason it happens is for Simon to call the puzzle hotline again and keep the story moving forward -- something that easily could have happened on the road with Art buying Simon a puzzle magazine (the same one) to keep him complacent. Such plot problems only further serve to lower the film's overall quality.

    Willis ("Pulp Fiction," the "Die Hard" films), however, is good in his role as the rogue FBI agent, and easily fills the shoes of the lone hero (now his stereotypical role ever since the first "Die Hard"). Playing everything rather low key, he's effective as the sudden father-figure, but we don't get to know much about him other than that he's haunted by memories of the film's opening sequence where two teenagers were shot. If you like Willis' standard stoic tough-guy performance -- but without any of the John McClane wisecracks-- then you'll probably enjoy this one.

    Alec Baldwin ("The Edge," "The Hunt For Red October") is okay as the bad NSA official, but like Willis, his character isn't fully explored. Although he makes several statements about the good of the many outweighing the good of the few (his justification for having the boy assassinated so as to save thousands of government operatives' lives that might be endangered should the secret code get out), this moral and ethical dilemma is never played out. For him, it's very cut and dried, and no one questions the ramifications of any of it.

    The real standout among the cast is Miko Hughes ("Jack the Bear," "Zeus & Roxanne") who plays Simon, the autistic child. There's never a moment that the audience won't believe that this boy really is autistic, and that's a testament to Hughes' fine acting performance. The only problem is that, like Dustin Hoffman's character in "Rainman" or any similar performance, there's a constant, emotional brick wall between us and the character that never quite lets us through. Thus, while everyone feels sorry for what's happened to the boy, you don't ever truly connect with him.

    Of course, many moviegoers might not have such problems with the film and may come off liking it (as did some at our screening). It certainly works as your run-of-the-mill thriller and Willis' fans will like his standard "kick butt" character. Yet, the movie never really takes off nor becomes as thrilling as one would expect and hope it would. Our diagnosis: The mercury will fall rather quickly on this film as the other pre-summer releases push it aside. We give "Mercury Rising" a 4.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of the film's content. Violence and profanity are both extreme. Many people are shot, with some of them being executed by an assassin, and the results are occasionally quite bloody. 9 "f" words and an assortment of others are used during the film. Beyond some bad attitudes exhibited by the "bad guys," many of the other categories don't have much in the way of major objectionable material. Even so, you may want to look through the scene listings to determine whether this film is appropriate for you or anyone else in your home.

  • Art drinks beer in a bar as do others.
  • We occasionally see Art downing some sort of tablets (but we never know exactly what they are).
  • Art drinks wine straight from the bottle in Kudrow's wine cellar just to irritate him (while people drink at the party upstairs).
  • Some kidnapers who've been shot are a little bloody, and we see blood smeared on a wall as a body slides down it. Art then puts his hands over a victim's bullet hole wounds and blood oozes up around his fingers. Later, his hands are still quite bloody.
  • Two people who've been shot are bloody. The woman has a bloody wound to the back, while the man has blood covering his head. We also later see a pool of dried blood where the man's head had been.
  • Art's head is a little bloody after fighting an assassin.
  • Several other people who are shot have small, bloody bullet hole wounds on their bodies.
  • A man's face is extremely bloody and raw-looking after tremendous amounts of glass shards cut him.
  • Another person is shot and the front of their shirt is quite bloody.
  • Some men have both as they've taken people hostage in a bank at gunpoint and have involved one of the men's teenage sons.
  • Art's superiors have both as they ordered at attack on some kidnapers when he told them he needed more time to resolve the situation.
  • Kudrow and his assassins have both as they order/carry out assassination plans to kill Simon, his parents, and anyone else who knows of their plans and code.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers.
  • An assassin kills Simon's parents and then goes through the house looking for the boy.
  • Dean and Leo go to meet Kudrow at night in an isolated area, and think that he might be preparing to kill them.
  • Art must get Simon out of a hospital while an assassin tries first to get the boy and then later to kill both of them.
  • Art suddenly sees that Simon is walking down some train tracks at an approaching train. He then runs and just manages to grab the boy and roll out of the way.
  • The ending sequence, where Art fights with Kudrow, a massive gun battle takes place, and Simon walks along the edge of a tall building top, goes on for several minutes and is tense.
  • Handguns/Rifles/Machine guns: Used to threaten, wound or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Bloodsuckers," "Shut up," "Balls" (testicles), "Screwed up," "Freakin'," "Retarded" and "Pissed."
  • Art dumps his pills out the window of his car and then throws the container to the street (littering).
  • A dog suddenly surprises Dean and Leo at their car window.
  • There is a moderate amount of suspenseful, dramatically oriented music in the film.
  • None.
  • At least 9 "f" words (1 possibly used with "mother"), 5 "s" words, 3 asses (1 used with "hole"), 2 damns, 2 hells, 1 S.O.B., 1 crap, and 8 uses of "G-damn," 3 of "Oh my God," 2 of "Jesus," and 1 use each of "Oh God," "For Christ's sakes," and "Oh Christ" as exclamations.
  • None.
  • Kudrow pulls out a cigarette, but doesn't smoke it.
  • Although he's probably not really aware of it, Simon is orphaned after his parents are murdered.
  • Whether the needs of the many (in this case, government field operatives) outweigh the needs of the few (Simon and his parents).
  • People who are autistic.
  • We find Art undercover with two armed men and two teenage boys (the sons of one of the men) in a bank, in a hostage situation with the police outside. Art hits a hostage on the back of the head and knocks him out (to prevent the others from shooting him). The father then violently backhands one of his sons, and aims his weapon at Art. An explosion and gunfire then rips through the building as the police storm in and fire at the kidnapers who return fire. Several officers are hit by gunfire (and wounded or killed) and eventually the two men and the two teenagers are shot dead.
  • Moments later, Art holds his gun on his superior and then punches him in the face.
  • An assassin shoots Simon's mother and father dead.
  • Art shoots at an assassin in a hospital who's trying to kill him and Simon.
  • Some men shoot at Art and Simon in an ambulance and blow out its windows. The ambulance then goes out of control and crashes into several cars.
  • Art fights with another assassin on a train, hitting and kicking him several times. The assassin then hits him back until Art finally knocks him from the train.
  • An assassin shoots a man in the back, killing him. Art then chases the assassin who knocks other people down or out of his way as he flees.
  • As assassin shoots and kills another man.
  • Art kicks Kudrow in the chest and then turns over one of his large wine racks, sending it crashing to the floor.
  • There's a big gun fight scene at the end where several people are shot (and wounded or killed). Another man is massively cut from a huge amount of flying glass. Two men struggle over a gun with one finally being shot several times and then falling from the top of a building.

  • Reviewed April 1, 1998

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