“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Mercury Rising

also April 3, 1998

MERCURY RISING opened on the same day as LOST IN SPACE, and I skipped it until now, too, despite it starring Bruce. I guess I figured it wasn’t a real action movie, it was some thriller from a director I wasn’t excited about (Harold Becker, VISION QUEST, SEA OF LOVE). I was more picky back then I guess.

He’s taking care of a little boy even though it’s a year before THE SIXTH SENSE. A practice run. It’s very much a transitional work because he basically gets to alernate between Action Bruce and Sad Bruce. Strangely enough it’s based on a book called Simon Says, which is the same name as the spec script that DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE was based on, as well as the name of Pharoahe Monch’s biggest song, which sampled the Godzilla theme, and a GODZILLA remake was released later in the summer of 1998. Isn’t that fucking crazy!? Well, I guess the third one is not really that relevant, and now that I look at it the book is actually called Simple Simon (by Ryne Douglas Pearson, who has story and screenplay credits on KNOWING). So please strike most of this paragraph from the record. I’m sorry I wasted your time.

Bruce plays FBI agent Art Jeffries, who gets the classic action movie introduction of being in the middle of an assignment that goes bad. In this case he’s undercover with a Sovereign Citizens type militia led by Richard Riehle (EXECUTIVE DECISION, OFFICE SPACE, KEN PARK) who are trying to rob a bank in downtown Chicago. Art (who is kind of shaggy and sweaty and flirting with a vague southern-ish drawl) is trying to negotiate peace between the militia and the FBI without blowing his cover, and he’s outraged when they ignore him and gun down everybody, including a couple teenagers. There’s a very effective use of dramatic gore when he’s pushing on a dying kid (Chad Lindberg, Jess from THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS)’s chest and blood is coming up between his fingers. But it’s hard to believe he can then just walk out of there wearing his dirty camo, yelling, and nobody even looks at him. He walks straight to the commanding officer (John Doman, Rawls from The Wire), puts his own gun to his neck and punches him in the face. So he gets demoted.

That’s how a super-agent gets put on the shit assignment of helping look for a 9 year old kid who wandered off after his parents were murdered. The neighbors apparently told them little Simon Lynch (Miko Hughes, ZEUS & ROXANNE) is “retarded,” but we know he’s actually an autistic math genius. He called a phone number that was the solution to a thought-to-be-uncrackable code in a puzzle book. The NSA actually put it out there to test “the geek factor” of whether a math genius could crack the “Mercury” encryption system.

It’s a cool thriller premise. I’m down. Not too absurd for me. What did make me laugh: the computer sound effect they use to simulate Simon’s brain calculating the numbers.

Anyway, the intelligence community is already using Mercury, it’s a little late to stop it now, so scary boss man Kudrow (Alec Baldwin, MIAMI BLUES, THE SHADOW) sent an assassin (Lindsey Ginter, BEVERLY HILLS COP III, PEARL HARBOR) to kill Simon. He just got the parents and then had to flee.

Well, Art figures out where he’s hiding, and at the hospital he realizes that he’s not safe, and takes off with him. He has to learn how to communicate with Simon, how to not scare him, figure out who’s after him and what to do about it, etc. He has a sympathetic friend at the agency named Tommy Jordan (Chi McBride, THE FRIGHTENERS) who believes him enough to give him a little under the table help, but to the world he’s a crazy man who kidnapped a kid. To emphasize this there are a couple mentions of a psychologist calling him paranoid and of him being addicted to pills, but it doesn’t seem like a very in-depth portrait of either of these things.

A good halfway through the movie Art needs to be away from Simon for a little bit to meet with an NSA whistleblower (Robert Stanton, DENNIS THE MENACE, FIND ME GUILTY) and he decides to fake run into a random lady at a cafe in order to strike up a conversation and then ask her if she can watch the kid. Her name is Stacey and she’s played by Kim Dickens, who had made an impression in ZERO EFFECT the same year. Stacey knows Art is full of shit but agrees anyway even though she’s on her way to work or something. And then somehow she doesn’t seem mad when he’s gone for quite a while due to a shooting and chase and shit. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he ends up figuring out where she lives, knocking on her door in the middle of the night and convincing her to let him in to sleep.

This is that part of the movie that’s hardest to swallow. I love Dickens and she’s a good presence in the movie, but it stretches credulity so far that this seemingly reasonable person would allow a random stranger on the run from the police into her house at 2 am just because he has a nice little boy with him. They have her hesitate and question him but when she gives in she just lets her guard down completely and it makes no sense. And it lowers my opinion of Art because he’s endangering this woman and also seems to be trying to court her a little. He kisses her on the cheek at one point. He acts like they’re mommy and daddy. I know he’s Bruce, but she shouldn’t put up with this shit.

There’s this supporting character Emily (Carrie Preston, TRANSAMERICA, True Blood), girlfriend and co-worker of an NSA tech guy (Bodhi Elfman, SHRUNKEN HEADS, COLLATERAL) turned whistleblower. She’s not in it that much, but she might be kinda historic as an early pop culture acknowledgment of the existence of cool “geek girls.” I mean she’s not about to do cosplay, but the glasses, short hair, nasally voice and riding a bicycle are, I think, a 1998 Hollywood thriller way of making her standout from generic movie babes. Unfortunately their attempt at making her talk like a nerd makes me cringe. She’s introduced excitedly talking about how coffee makes her feel like Ricki Lake (?) and “What can I say? I’m the Java Queen!” She mentions Bart Simpson and imitates his voice.

Since The Simpsons was in its ninth season by that time this was not exactly a cutting edge reference. Later she muses “Have you ever wondered what we’re gonna collect when we get old? Plaid shirts and Kramer dolls?” (Seinfeld was in its ninth and final season – it ended before MERCURY RISING left theaters.) When they worry about their emails being seen she walks over to a manual typewriter and says “low tech RULES!” Actually, that I can see somebody really saying like that.

Hughes is an ’80s and ’90s child actor who I never forget because he was Gage in PET SEMETARY and Heather Langenkamp’s son in WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE. You may also know him as the “boys have a penis, girls have a vagina” kid from KINDERGARTEN COP or the homeless kid in SPAWN. This has got to be the most challenging acting he ever did, because he doesn’t make eye contact, often looking sideways, speaks monotonously, often has to scream and wriggle around when people are grabbing him.

But the eye thing does remind me of when he was sleepwalking and possessed by Freddy in NEW NIGHTMARE. And what’s with this kid and traffic? In PET SEMETARY he runs out onto the highway and gets run over. In NEW NIGHTMARE he sleepwalks across a busy freeway. In this one he also has a big scene on foot on a freeway (the Kennedy Express Way), as well as a part where he almost walks out into traffic. (I don’t know if Art would’ve known to bury him in the pet cemetery if it came to that.)

For a lead villain Kudrow is not on screen all that much, but Baldwin goes glengarry on that shit. With his handsome slicked back hair and authoritative voice he is both scary and convincing as someone who really believes that he’s protecting the country by killing this family. And when he finally has his first scene with Bruce it’s a good one. Kudrow is having a big formal party at his house and has a talk with Art in his wine cellar. Art taunts him by opening and swigging his presumably very old and very expensive wine. It works, too – at one point during their confrontation Kudrow snaps “I asked you not to handle the wine, please!”

He seems to have further lost his cool by the time he’s snatched up Simon for the DARKMAN-esque skyscraper-roof-action-climax. But that’s partly an illusion caused by the helicopter blowing his hair around. It makes him look like Chris Farley.

My 1998 assumptions weren’t that far off. This is a pretty middle of the road movie. But Willis, Baldwin, the sort of Hermann-esque score by John Barry (THUNDERBALL, WHITE BUFFALO, GAME OF DEATH, BODY HEAT, HOWARD THE DUCK) and the comforting machinery of the standard ’90s studio thriller make it watchable. I’m glad I got around to it.

The script is by Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal, the team that did THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN, THE JEWEL OF THE NILE, SUPERMAN IV, STAR TREK VI, THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG and PLANET OF THE APES [the bad one]. According to a summary on Amazon, the book version of Simon is sixteen years old, and is also being hunted by “a beautiful, sadistic assassin working for enemies who will stop at nothing to learn the secret locked in Simon’s mind.” I’m surprised they left out that complication. Interestingly Art Jeffries is Art Jefferson in the book, and it’s his fourth adventure after Cloudburst (aka Thunder One), October’s Ghost and Capitol Punishment. He previously dealt with terrorists flying a hijacked plane full of nuclear weapons toward the U.S., a murder mystery connected to Castro threatening the U.S. with an old nuclear weapon to thwart a coup, and a white supremacist planning a chemical weapon attack on Washington DC. Earlier this year he returned as a retiree to protect 36 year old Simon in a fifth book called Simon Sees.

MERCURY RISING opened #3 at the box office below LOST IN SPACE and the vanquished TITANIC, above a re-release of GREASE. It dropped faster than the space movie and made about $93 million, most of it overseas. Probly not a big enough profit or cultural impact to make that book sequel into a movie. Sorry Simon.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 9th, 2018 at 9:46 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

54 Responses to “Mercury Rising”

  1. You don’t really see a lot of old-school star vehicles like this anymore, do you? Like, the studio is in the Bruce Willis business, they need to put new product on shelves, this script is ready to go, let’s just do the thing and move on to the next one. It’s the definition of a potboiler. Now every movie seems designed to be a high-concept multiplatform franchise starter tentpole. Careers are at stake. They don’t just toss out a little action thriller programmer to keep the lights on.

    I haven’t seen this one since VHS, but I usually get it confused with THE JACKAL. Which is probably a better movie because I don’t remember anyone blowing Jack Black’s entire arm off in MERCURY RISING.

    Please enjoy this suggested musical accompaniment for this review:

  2. I remember liking that one when I saw it 17ish years ago, but not enough to ever watch it again. It was a competent studio action thriller, nothing more, nothing less. Mostly noteworthy IMO for being one of the only three movies I saw with Chi McBride, who afterwards became one of TVs most reliable and constantly working actors. (The other two movies were of course THE FRIGHTENERS and I, ROBOT)

  3. I still haven’t seen this one. It’s on TV a lot, but I always find something that interests me more. Now that Bruce makes a half assed movie a week, perhaps I should give it a go.

  4. Bruce Willis IS Art Jeffries.

    I remember during the Super Bowl that year both this and Armageddon had trailers and Armageddon blew this out of the water. It was a pretty strong contrast.

    Even I didn’t see it until it was in the dollar theater, but I remember being pleased enough for a dollar afternoon.

  5. Speaking of half-assed Bruce Willis movies-of-the-work, anybody see ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE? It’s nothing amazing, just a comedic L.A. private eye story, but I liked it. While I am admittedly a sucker for a comedic P.I. story, I also appreciated that it seemed like the most fun Bruce has had in a decade. His character is part Joe Hallenbeck, part David Addison, with a Sad Bruce edge to give him a little gravitas. (Not too much gravitas, though–he skateboards naked with a pistol clenched between his buttcheeks at one point.) Apparently some people found the film obnoxious but I thought it was a fun, laid-back shaggy dog mystery, sort of a throwback to the days of FLETCH, that made good use of latter-day Bruce’s lazy charisma.

  6. This was the first time I started learning about the ‘Autism is a super power’ trope that continues to be popular twenty years later.

    Mr. M: For all the reasons you stated is why I’m so thankful for the Jaume Collet-Serra / Liam Neeson joints. They don’t go out to set the world on fire, they just want to entertain. They don’t even want to (gasp!) setup sequels! I know it’s cool to make fun of them but I look forward to each and everyone of them even though the only one I love is NON-STOP (just really enjoy the others).

  7. Maj, that’s the greatest pitch I’ve heard for the movie. It’s on Hulu so I may watch it if I’ve got time this summer.

  8. I’m pretty sure I caught this one on VHS, but I only have vague memories. Serviceable might be the best thing you could say about it. It seemed like twenty years ago, if you wrote a vaguely entertaining potboiler, then you had a decent chance of getting your work made into a movie. (Jack Reacher and The Foreigner might be the only recent movies to keep that tradition alive.)

  9. AMERICAN ASSASSIN was also based on a book from a series of airport paperbacks by Vince Flynn.

  10. Oh look the prototype for what would end up being his DTV output.

  11. No way. He’s in almost every scene in this movie. There’s no way he could have shot his whole part in two days on the same set like he does most of his DTV shit.

  12. Also in this one he’s almost engaged with the material. Something we took for granted back in the day but now don’t expect at all and are pleasantly surprised when he only half-asses it.

  13. Oh my goodness, I had no idea! Is Bruce really the latter-day Seagal? I had to go look at his filmography just now. How did his modern-day DTV movement pass me by? And every one of them sounds like garbage! I’m sure he’s paid handsomely and enjoying the proceeds, though, and, based on prior comments here, working very little in exchange. Good on him, I guess.

  14. I’ve seen ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE. Bruce seems to be actually trying in this one (Though i think he’s miscast) Enjoyed it more than i expected.

    Quite a cast as well. Famke Janssen. John Goodman. Jason Momoa.

  15. Well, you know what they say about aging action stars: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself badly photoshopped onto the cover of direct to video movies.”

  16. Oh wow was this ever a past-blast. Saw this one in the theaters with my dad, and I think we both had the same impression of it – “that was a movie, alright! It took up about an hour and a half of our time and we will remember nothing about it in two days.” I do vaguely remember some of it, particularly the bits in the lady’s house for some reason, but mostly it’s just a movie that I remember having seen more than I remember seeing, if that distinction makes sense.

  17. I remember when Siskel & Ebert panned this on their TV show, I was very amused by Siskel’s comment, “If a ten-year-old kid has cracked your super-secret computer code, you don’t shoot the kid, you shoot your programmer!”

  18. I get this movie mixed up with the one where Bruce drives boats around, and I think it has Sarah Jessica Parker. I actually thought they were the same movie but I guess not. IMDB says that one is STRIKING DISTANCE.

    This is like they mixed PI and RAINMAN and THE FUGITIVE and a Nickelodeon kids movie. I am really surprised they made $93M with it rated R. It seems like that would not happen in today’s market, even unadjusted for inflation.

  19. I actually paid extra to see FIRST KILL on Viaplay, and even if Bruce’ role could have been played by anybody, and it’s not a bad movie per se, it’s not a Bruce Willis movie, as the poster say.

  20. Oh man that Shane Black Predator trailer… is not good. Hope it isn’t representative of the final product.

  21. It looks just as bad as the second ALIENS VS PREDATOR movie.

  22. It’s…not great. But we also don’t see a whole lot, so I’m still holding out hope. (But also where did that kid get the box with the Predator helmet? Was it accidentally mailed to him? Did his old man once fight the Predator and for whatever reason put the helmet in storage instead of on the mantle where it belongs?)

    I feel like no matter how bad this movie is, I’ll somehow forgive it if the alternative 1997 of the second movie is somehow referenced. Maybe someone mentions the LA voodoo gang of the late 90s. Or maybe a neighbor owns one of those vaguely futuristic cars from Predator 2, which are now prized because they’re vintage. Make it happen Shane Black.

  23. STOP TELLING SHANE BLACK WHAT TO DO!

    I don’t give a fuck about a piece of marketing. Like they’ve ever known how to sell a Black movie anyway. Here’s what I do care about: A real goddamn Writer Of The Films Of Cinema has some new work coming out and motherfuckers are talking about a prop. How’d that prop get there? Geez, I hope somebody got fired for that blunder. I don’t know, maybe there’s, like, a story or some shit that will make sense to you after it’s been told to you by the storyteller but probably not from watching a 30-second commercial made by some fuckin’ Ellis in the advertising department?

    I swear. Fuckin’ ingrates around here sometimes.

  24. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be seeing this as soon as I can. I’m still curious to know where that helmet came from (and starting the trailer with a kid playing with the Predator’s stuff doesn’t exactly scream “badass Predator sequel.”)

  25. I haven’t actually watched the trailer, so I’ll take your word for it. I try to avoid the marketing for movies I already know I’m seeing. What’s the point? At that point, all they can do at that point is talk me out of it.

    Honestly, I just try to avoid marketing. The common wisdom seems to be that it’s a necessary evil. I agree except for the necessary part.

  26. Let me say the word “point” a few more times. That should help my argument.

  27. Maybe if I didn’t have full faith in Shane Black I would nitpick it, but I see nothing wrong with the trailer. If you’re worried about Jacob Tremblay, it doesn’t look like the movie is from his point of view, and him accidentally controlling a Predator ship to crash land on earth is way funnier than anything in the AvP movies.

  28. The only problem I have with the teaser is that I can’t remember any other teaser or trailer that felt so randomly slapped together like this one. And yeah, I get it, it’s a teaser, but it shows us so little, that I really can’t form any opinion on it.

  29. I miss the days when Bruce was an A-lister who actually cared about what he was doing, I’m surprised the DEATH WISH remake got a theatrical release at all.

    Last Bruce movie I saw in theaters was SURROGATES all the way back in 2009.

  30. I liked RED 1 and 2, but after that..?

  31. Bruce Willis’s fall is kind of weird because there’s no one moment where it seemed like he made some sort of disastrous career decision. It just seems like at some point the lights dimmed and he stopped caring. The last Bruce Willis movie I saw in theaters was Sin City 2 (2014) and before that Looper and Moonrise Kingdom (both in 2012, which was apparently a good year for him).

    And just to combine both of the threads of this conversation, if Bruce knew what was good for him, he’d try to team up again with Shane Black.

  32. I’ve been re-watching the Marvel movies since INFINITY WAR and I just finished IRON MAN 3. I forgot how good it is. It’s not Black’s best work, but I think it’s the best Iron Man.

    I’m not sure why I forgot I liked it. Really, I forgot most of the movie itself. I think it may have made me skittish after hearing all the controversy over the Mandarin character. Or who knows why.

  33. Huh. I thought the Predator trailer was fine. But I guess I don’t really care about the art of trailer making. Just tell me if any cool actors are in the movie, or if a cool director made it, and I’m usually good.

  34. I think it was the X-FILES looking forest combined with the boring clothes and overalt STRANGER THINGS feeling that rubbed me the wrong way.

  35. I agree, Maggie, that Iron Man 3 is the bet of the series (although I have a soft spot for the first movie). Why was it that the geeks online hated it again? Was it because the Mandarin was a red herring? I swear, sometimes these people act like these movies have stolen their action figures whenever they do something unexpected.

    [Slight spoiler for The Predator ahead]

    I just checked IMDB and apparently Jake Busey is playing the son of Gary Busey’s character from Predator 2. You were one step ahead of me this whole time, Shane Black.

  36. Yes, it was the bait and switch of the villain. I swear there was also some question of cultural insensitivity, too, though. I don’t know if it was the fact he wasn’t played by an Asian actor or the character being a caricature or both or something completely different. It doesn’t take much to get the internet all riled up.

  37. I think the general consensus ended up being that they should have just stayed away from the character the Mandarin altogether. The comic book fans got all butt hurt because they changed him from how he was in the comics. But had they left him like he was, that would have been an offensive Asian villain caricature, offending all the other people.

  38. I can’t remember any controversy over the nationality of The Mandarin. If there was one, it must have been a small one, that maybe just happened on outrage-bait sites like Hitfix. Most likely because Kingsley is half-Indian. His real first name is even Krishna! So I can see how that wouldn’t be too much of a big deal. (Not saying that Indians and Asians are the same, but I can see how people would’ve been more outraged if they had hired a white guy for that role.)

  39. Complaining about a kid being in a Shane Black movie is like complaining you are wet because you got caught in the rain. If you worried about Jacob Tremblay character then you clearly have never seen a Shane Black movie. 90% of his movies have a kid actor in it as one of the leads and most of the time they are some of the best characters.

  40. I’m mostly worried that it’s one of those stupid storyteller things were it’s told in flashback during an interrogation. I hate those.

  41. Are you referring to my post, Sternshein?

  42. More of a general observations on Shane Black movies and how most people hate kids in R rated movies.

  43. There’s nothing wrong with kids – I’ve helped making a bunch of them myself – but Shane promised us a movie in the vein of the first one, so I expected Columbian jungle, mercenaries and mega-violence. PS! There’s one kid on Mr Blacks CV (IRON MAN 3), so it’s still not something I expect.

  44. What is CV?

  45. And I’m trying to think of an official Shane Black joint (i.e. a full script, not a rewrite job like PREDATOR) that DOESN’T have a kid in it.

    LETHAL WEAPON: Murtaugh’s wacky rapping kids

    LAST BOY SCOUT: Foul-mouthed, hilarious Danielle Harris

    LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: Geena Davis’s daughter, whom Black continues to cast in bit parts to this day.

    MONSTER SQUAD: Nothing but kids.

    LAST ACTION HERO: A kid is the star.

    THE NICE GUYS: Gosling’s precocious daughter

    IRON MAN 3: Shit-talking kid sidekick

    KISS KISS BANG BANG: The kids in this one are all in flashback, but they’re there and they’re significant to the plot.

    So I have no idea what you’re talking about, pegsman. Kids involved in adult action is as prominent a part of the Black oeuvre as wisecracking alcoholics with mental health issues. And he’s good at it. Nobody writes better, funnier, less cloying interactions between adults and children than him. He could do the whole thing MONSTER SQUAD style and I’d be down with it.

  46. Oh, and in KISS KISS BANG BANG, Downey Jr is introduced talking to his nephew on the phone, with whom he seems to have a similar relationship to the one Sam Jackson has with his son in LONG KISS. The whole movie is about not letting evil parents get away with it. It’s not about kids but it’s ABOUT kids.

  47. Nobody knows what I’m talking about half the time. I was just surprised by the look of the trailer, that’s all. I was expecting something else. But I’m sure the movie will be as good as everything else Black has put his name to.

  48. Sternshein, CV is European talk for resume. I’m not sure what it stands for.

  49. Apparently it means Curriculum Vitae. I would have guessed “Cock Vagina”, but I’m 12. Also I googled what CV means, but I’m too lazy to google the meaning of Curriculum Vitae.

  50. It means work history, basically.

  51. We use the term almost daily, so it didn’t occur to me that it isn’t known in other parts of the world. Sorry about that.

  52. I’ve applied online for jobs and I always saw “CV” for resumes and I never gave it a second thought. Thanks guys for the knowledge.

    Side bar, I would love The Long Kiss Goodnight to be remade. I always liked the script but I was so disappointed in Renny Harlin’s direction. None of the action is satisfying in any way to me.

  53. This is one of those movies that’s dumb as fuck while actually believing that it’s playing it smart. It’s entertaining for what it is though. Unlike THE JACKAL from around that same time period where Bruce kept trying to reinvent his movie image.

  54. Didn’t Kelsey Grammer do a movie with a similar story line to this?

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