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Review: Mercury Rising

April 08, 1998|By JASON MYERS

Jason Myers

Simon (Miko Hughes) carries around brightly colored flash cards to keep track of such simple things as who his parents are, where he lives and to warn him not to touch a stove or talk to strangers. He is autistic. You wonder what affliction the makers of "Mercury Rising" have. It is not difficult, however, to imagine them carrying around sets of cards similar to Simon's that have any number of movie-making cliches written upon them.

Robert Musil's "A Man of No Features" is considered to be a modernist masterpiece of literature among the ranks of Proust's "In Search of Lost Time" and Joyce's "Ulysses."

"Mercury Rising" might well be called "A Movie of No Features," though not for any profound ironical sensibility or metaphysical comment, but rather because it so thoroughly recycles scenes and storylines from other films that it seems less one motion picture than a collage.

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Simon borrows his traits from Dustin Hoffman's portrait of autism in "Rain Man." Hughes (the "Kindergarten Cop" kid whose father was a gynecologist) gives an affecting performance, but he is lost in a typical thriller plot line and acute analyses of his character like, "He just doesn't see things like you and me."

That Gumpism comes courtesy of Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis), an FBI agent who must moonlight as a clinical pathologist. Jeffries, who would make Oliver Stone seem like a calm, rational scholar, encounters Simon after the boy's parents are killed.

Simon's autism is not so debilitating that he does not have the flourishes that Raymond Babbitt (Hoffman) evidenced. One day the young lad decodes a message from a book of puzzles that happens to be the nexus of a highly classified government security operation. Preposterous action ensues.

The most surprising thing about "Mercury Rising," directed by Harold Brecker with some good intentions, is that it is not much of a thriller at all. Where most "blockbusters" are unlinear explosions of amphetamine, with gaudy gunfights and crazed car chases, "Mercury Rising" creeps along on Valium.

The early scenes depicting Simon's life at school and home belong in a different movie: with some more intelligence and a more complete immersion in his perspective, they could make for a fresh children's film.

The Hitchcockian black-and-white visions that haunt Art's dreams - in one of his undercover assignments, he was unable to save two teenage militia men - are simply wrong.

Willis, because he lacks both the brawn and idiocy of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, is probably the most convincing cinematic hero of the day, yet his grizzled, chiseled mug is used to little effect here.

The most amusing caricature is of Nicholas Kudrow, played with such finesse by Alec Baldwin that you suspect the actor must think he's in a better movie.

Kudrow, a high-ranking agent in the National Security Agency who runs the "Mercury" project that Simon has undermined, is menacing in a minimal, quiet way that makes Garrison Keillor so frightening.

Since the entire plot of "Mercury Rising" was given away in the trailor, the only possible interest would be to learn the specifics of this encrypted security code, but Mercury is glossed over in the simplespeak of movies, so that it seems about as cerebral and impenetrable as Microsoft Windows.

Surely no enjoyment can be derived from the lunatic rooftop finale, a sequence that has been used to prior, and better, effect in so many films - including many of Willis' own - that to cite them would only further embarrass "Mercury Rising." The film moves on slow feet and accomplishes little feat.

Jason is a senior at North Hagerstown High School.

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