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BWN Nerds’ Movie Review: The Rock (1996)

The Nerds tackle the 1996 action flick The Rock! Sean Connery, not Dwayne Johnson! Do you miss old Michael Bay movies?

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Welcome to this week’s edition of the Nerd Review!  Every week the Nerds give you their take on a different classic from the Nerdosphere.  This week Dave and Patrick review the 1996 Michael Bay action classic The Rock!

The Flick:  The Rock

What’s it About:  General Frank Hummel, angered at the refusal of the United States government to acknowledge the death of men who served under him, steals a cache of VX warheads.  Hummel and his men take over Alcatraz and threaten the lives of the people of San Francisco if the Federal Government does not pay reparations to the families of Hummel’s men.  The Government sends a team of Navy SEALS accompanied by a mild mannered FBI Chemical weapons experts named Stanley Goodspeed and John Mason, the person to escape Alcatraz as their guide.

Metacritic Score: 58

The Nerds’ Take on The Rock (1996):

Patrick:  Long before Michael Bay was ruining my childhood with terrible Transformer movies, he made this gem of testosterone fueled action flick.  This film was played on repeat in many a college dorm room, including my own.  Ed Harris plays General Frank Hummel.  Hummel has made a career running covert operations for the United States government.  After years of his men sacrificing their lives for the US government with no acknowledgement, Hummel leads a team of soldiers to steal 15 chemical warheads.  He takes those warheads to Alcatraz, holds 81 tourists hostage, and threatens to fire the missiles on the city of San Francisco unless the families of his fallen soldiers are paid by the government.  In response the team sends a team of Navy SEALs to stop Hummel.  The team is accompanied by a chemical weapons expert named Stanley Goodspeed and the only man to escape Alcatraz, John Mason.

The beautiful thing about The Rock is that there is not a lot of thinking necessary to get you through this over the top action flick.  From the moment this movie start you are greeted with explosions, actions, cliché action movie one liners.  It’s delightful.  This movie has everything: a military raid on a base, a gratuitous car chase through San Francisco, a…mine car chase through the bowels of the prison?  And explosions.  Have I mentioned explosions?  Because there’s a lot of explosions.  My biggest complaint about this movie is the SEAL team.  We get introduced to this “elite” team that is summarily wiped out in one ill-fated shootout.  Just a complete waste.  But hey, it’s small price to pay to get Cage and Connery bantering for hour.

Speaking of which, the cast in this movie shouldn’t be overlooked.  Nicholas Cage plays the bookish chemical weapons expert Stanley Goodspeed (nerdy name is a little too on the nose).  Cage does really well playing a guy out of his element in the middle of a top secret raid.  Complimenting him is Sean Connery in the role of former British Intelligence agent and Alcatraz escapee John Mason.  There is a clear chemistry between the two actors and their banter leads to some terrific exchanges and one liners: “Winners go home and F### the prom queen” anyone?  But the real performance in this movie for me is Ed Harris as General Frank Hummel.  Hummel is a man who feels betrayed by his country, yet is a decent man.  He really doesn’t want to hurt anyone.  In fact, his whole play is one big bluff.  Harris carries this real sense of dignity in his portrayal of Hummel and makes him relatable despite his twisted attempt to bring justice to his men.

There’s really not much more I can say about this flick.  It’s a straight up, old school action movie.   Like I said before there’s not much thinking to get in the way of the action.  And that’s ok, because my goodness is this a fun ride.  Pop some popcorn sit back and enjoy it.

Did I mention this movie has a lot of explosions?

Patrick’s Rating:  3.3/5

Dave: The 1990’s had no shortage of over-the-top action films. This week we took a look at one of the better ones, 1996’s The Rock. In The Rock, Ed Harris portrays General Frank Hummel. General Hummel has gown very angry and intolerant of the US Government’s consistent failure to provide benefits for the brave men and women who have sacrificed themselves for what can best be termed Black-Ops missions. To finally get the government’s attention he and a group of rogue Marines are able to steal 15 missiles loaded with deadly VX Gas. Hummel then hijacks a tour of Alcatraz Island and uses the 81 civilian tourists as hostages.  Hummel demands $100 million dollars or he vows to launch the missiles into the heart of San Francisco, killing millions in the process. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) is a chemical weapons expert for the FBI and he and a group of elite SEALS launch a plan to infiltrate Alcatraz and disarm the missiles. To do this, however, they need the help of someone intimately familiar with the layout of Alcatraz and who can get them into the prison undetected. Enter former prisoner, John Mason portrayed masterfully by Sir Sean Connery.

As is evident from that brief description, there is high drama to be found. The SEAL team is wiped out by Hummel’s forces so that only Goodspeed and Mason remain. The two men are forced to trust each other as they face insurmountable odds. Mason, a British operative who was held by the government for roughly 30 years without a trial, does a lot of the heavy lifting as far as fighting is concerned. Goodspeed is able to disarm 12 of the 15 missiles. The race to disarm the final three is where the heart of the climax comes from, especially when Hummel is forced to contemplate the unthinkable…. actually launching the remaining missiles. All the while, the governments planned response is to incinerate the island, and everyone on it, with thermite plasma bombs.

The Rock is just fun. The cast is exceptional and Connery, Cage, and Harris really shine. There are plenty of gun fights and a few gruesome deaths, which was almost mandatory for an action film in the 1990’s. It has its share of absurd moments as well, which was also mandatory for a 1990’s action film. The effects of VX gas were, to some extent, exaggerated and the idea that there are caverns underneath Alcatraz that rival things seen in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom is rather laughable. But The Rock captures a human element missing from some of the other 1990’s action films of the same ilk. You can almost sympathize with Hummel, even if you disagree completely with the manner in which he is trying to seek what be believes to be right and just. There is a scene where Mason meets up with his daughter, who he had never before met, that makes you realize there is much more to this man than meets the eye. He is instantly humanized in that one scene and you find yourself rooting for him. Goodspeed never seems to be on solid footing, but still manages to land on his feet every time. He is a less assured version of another of Nicolas Cage’s better characters, Ben Gates from the National Treasure series. The similarities in the characters will be evident to anyone who has seen those films. But, in the end, The Rock will keep you entertained and engaged for over 2 hours. As far as 1990’s action movies go, this one is one of the best.

Dave’s Rating: 3.75/5

Nerds’ Rating on The Rock (1996):  3.525/5


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