The Rock

(Michael Bay, USA, 1996)


Anyone inclined towards castigating expensive Hollywood blockbusters for their mindless, bombastic, formulaic evils will find their worst nightmares come true in The Rock. I am normally fond of action movies – even when they are only routinely exciting – but this one left me terribly underwhelmed.

Like the previous Simpson-Bruckheimer production Crimson Tide (1995), The Rock is about angry dissension within the American military leading to psychotic macho excess and potentially apocalyptic conflict. General Hummel (Ed Harris), a war hero offended at the way the government has mistreated its soldiers from Vietnam to Desert Storm, takes over the deserted Alcatraz prison. From there, he threatens to launch deadly chemical weapons at San Francisco.

Only two men can save the day, and neither of them is a conventional establishment fellow. Stanley (Nicolas Cage) is a nerdy scientist with a brilliant mind, but no experience in tough, combat situations. And Patrick (Sean Connery) is an enigmatic genius who has languished in American prisons for over thirty years. A perpetrator of obscure espionage crimes, Patrick is the only person to have ever successfully escaped from Alcatraz.

The Rock represents a very curious genre: it is an essentially conservative film that ponders extreme, even murderous divisions within right-wing groups. In another era, the heady combination of military gung ho and dark, doomsday prophecy produced disquieting movies such as Robert Aldrich's Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977). The Rock, however, is smug, complacent and inane.

There are some low-level thrills here but, as directed by Michael Bay (Bad Boys, 1995), the action on and around Alcatraz is one big, noisy blur. The script's attempts at Tarantino-style hip humour, and its outrageously offhand references to the unsolved mysteries of recent American history, are lame and puerile.

And the spectacle of old Connery blaring to wimpy Cage that "winners get to screw the prom queen" is just too, too disgusting.

warming to Bay: Bad Boys II

© Adrian Martin July 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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