An ex-con and a chemist team up to stop a general who has taken control of Alcatraz Island and plans to release nerve gas on San Francisco.
Well, I can’t hate this movie, and that’s more than I can say for most Michael Bay (“Transformers”, “Pain and Gain”) movies. In circles of certain cinephiles, Michael Bay is often tossed around as one of the reasons for the degradation of modern cinema. I agree with that assessment. I think Michael Bay’s films are juvenile and ridiculous, and they’re often aimed at audiences with the maturity of fourth grade boys. This movie is pretty stupid. It’s loud, unbelievable, way over the top, and it’s full of cheesy dialogue, but… I can’t hate this movie.
This is one of Bay’s films that manages to get a pass from me, primarily because of its leads and its devil may care attitude.
"I like history too, and maybe when this is all over you and I can stop by the souvenir shop... but right now I just want to find some rockets!"
I almost hate to say that one of the things I liked most about a Michael Bay film was the writing, but hey, he didn’t write this one, so that’s okay. I think the writing in this movie is pretty darn funny. All of the characters are larger than life cutouts of what normal people would be, but that’s all right for a movie like this. This movie follows tropes and clichés, but it makes it it’s own thing too. If you’re looking for brilliant, Oscar winning writing, you’re looking in the wrong place; if you want an action movie with a ridiculous premise and entertaining action sequences, you’re in the right place. There are, of course, some moments that go too overboard, and as a result are kind of silly. My favorite example of this in this movie is when Sean Connery (“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”) steals a Humvee and drives through San Francisco, plowing into cars, causing mayhem and destruction on the streets, and then there are absolutely no consequences for the action. There are stupid moments in this film; it’s a nineties action movie, what do you expect?
While the writing is fun, it’s the actors that really give life to this script. Nick Cage (“Mandy”) is an actor that, when given the right material, can give a memorable performance (notice I said memorable, not incredible). Nick is an actor that, over the years, has started to gain a bit of a cult following for his absolutely bizarre performances. Heck, I’ve started to follow him more closely because of how strange he is. He’s a man that holds absolutely nothing back, and the results are sometimes unique and wonderful (I mean everyone has seen the “Nick Cage looses his S—t” videos). This film came one year after Nick Cage won his Oscar for “Leaving Las Vegas”, and some of Nick’s more eccentric performances were yet to come, but I’d argue that here is where we first started to see inklings of the craziness. Nick Cage in this movie is a little more subdued than he was in films like “Con Air” or “Face/Off”, but he’s still got his wacky moments. I have to admit, I sort of look forward to Nick Cage movies solely because I know he’ll entertain me with his intensity, and Cage himself seems to have started to realize his fans love that stuff ( look at “Mom and Dad” and tell me that Cage didn’t sign up for that film just so that he could go bonkers).
Sean Connery is great in this movie. He seems to realize that this is probably one of the last times he’ll do another big action movie (does “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” really count?) Seeing him as a hard-as-nails ex-con with shoulder length hair was kind of great, and he’s got some of the best lines and actions in the whole movie. Making Connery an ex-con cooperating with the government makes the film far less believable, but it does make it a little more fun. It’s as if the writers of the film knew how stupid the premise was, and decided to run with it anyways, and as a result, the film feels slightly tongue in cheek. Ed Harris (“A History of Violence”) was solid in this too. I’ve never really seen a movie where Harris did a poor job, but it’s also rare that I feel like he steals the show. He’s a fine actor, and this is a fine performance, but the real show stealers are Cage and Connery.
The directing, as you might’ve guessed, is a little weak. There are certain choices that make little sense to me, like making the nerve gas canisters little neon green balls, or Connery’s explosive expedition through the city. Bay knows how to make stuff explode and sometimes make it look interesting, and this film is a good example of that. When Bay made this, he hadn’t yet gotten to the point in his career where his action sequences were infamous; he was still a little constrained. Looking over Bay’s movies now, I still think this is probably my favorite of all of his films, and I’m still only giving it three stars. Bay’s films never quite reach a level of emotional connectivity that I need to really feel for the characters or storylines; while he knows how to sometimes execute an action sequence I never really feel any of the tension he’s trying to build. Bay is fine for a director of a film aimed at high school boys who just want to see some random hot chicks and a lot of explosions, but for serious cinephiles, his work is largely lacking.
I’ve heard some people refer to this as a classic, and I think that’s giving the film a bit too much credit. I enjoy this film more than any other Michael Bay film, but that really doesn’t say much when most of his other films are about transforming cars. As an action movie to watch on a rainy/snowy Saturday afternoon, this is fine. As an action film, this is fine. As a cinematic masterpiece, this will not do. It’s a fine movie with some fine parts, but it’s not anything that people need to see.
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