The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘The Rock’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “The Rock.”

The info:

The Movie: “The Rock”

Starring:  Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris

Director: Michael Bay

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A mild-mannered chemist and an ex-con must lead the counterstrike when a rogue group of military men, led by a renegade general, threaten a nerve gas attack from Alcatraz against San Francisco.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 66 percent

Our take:

Froemming: OK, I felt it was time for the JOE-DOWN to get back to basics after a musical about newspapers and the nostalgic ramblings of George Lucas. And what better basics for us than a Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer produced, Michael Bay directed film about domestic terrorists starring Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery called “The Rock?” The answer is none. There is no better material for us at the JOE-DOWN. In a perfect world, the only way it could have been better was if John Travolta was in this.

But we don’t live in a perfect world…

What I didn’t expect was for this film to be the second unofficial James Bond movie we would review here starring Connery. But before I get too far ahead, Brown what are some of your initial thoughts on this film?

Brown: I love The Rock. From the charisma, the big elbow, the people’s eyebrow. Wait… Sorry, guys, wrong Rock.

This is the best way I can summarize this movie: There is an explosion in the opening (REDACTED) credits. And this movie never lets up. That doesn’t make it good or bad, it just appeals to my lizard brain. And after “Newsies” and “American Graffiti,” that was a part of my psyche that felt neglected. Thank you, Michael Bay, Don Simpson (whom this movie is dedicated to after Simpson died on the toilet with a pharmacy in his system) and Jerry Bruckheimer for your stupid, macho shenanigans.

All right, Froemming, get us started.

Froemming: As Brown said, we are greeted with an explosion in the opening credits. We are also given vague war time sound bites and Ed Harris looking moody. Turns out, his character Gen. Hummel has some sort of nefarious plans. We know this because he visits his wife’s grave which, for some reason, is labeled HIS WIFE above her name and talks about making a big decision.

I couldn’t stop chuckling at that. That was when I knew this was a Michael Bay film.

Brown: I thought you were full of (REDACTED) when you told me this. I turned the movie back on while we do this review. And sure enough, “His wife” is on the grave. Subtlety has never been a Bay strong suit.

Froemming: Even better is the next scene we see marines breaking into a clearly labeled “naval weapon depot.” A big yellow sign with black letters let me know that this is what the place was. It probably helped these intruders know they were at the right place as well. Bay must have that same need to label things as 1966’s Adam West’s Batman does.

Well, these mysterious soldiers are able to steal some secret weapons, which we learn later are  M55 rockets filled with deadly VX gas.

Brown, I will let you introduce our star of the film, Mr. Nicolas Cage.

Brown: Before I do this, a round of applause for our bad guy. Ed Harris, I’m pretty sure he’s never played a good guy in his career. He should be in the villain hall of fame next to Michael Ironside, Christopher Lee, Alan Rickman, Dennis Hopper and John C. McGinley (who is also in this movie) for their ability to always play deplorables.

Now, so far in the movie we’ve had explosions in the opening credits and a heist scene. So how do we follow that? With a (REDACTED) bomb defusal scene with one of our heroes, Stanley Goodspeed, which may be the dumbest name I’ve heard for a character in a very long time.

Goodspeed is the FBI’s top chemical weapons expert, and in one of the first scenes we see of him, he’s having to disarm a baby doll that is filled with a deadly chemical. And we get a Chekov’s Gun for later in the movie with how much they talk about having a shot of Atropine ready to stop someone from getting poisoned.

But, the biggest ticking time bomb Stanley has to deal with is his out-of-his-league girlfriend telling him after the diffusal that she’s pregnant. And what is Stanley doing while this is happening? He’s naked in his living room, drinking wine and playing guitar. And this is after he spent $600 on a vinyl record of The Beatles’ “With The Beatles.” I’ll leave it to our local audiophile, Froemming, to say if that was a wise price for that purchase.

After seeing Nic Cage playing naked guitar, followed by a quick sex scene minutes later, there’s not enough bleach for my eyeballs.

Froemming: The Beatles album, that’s probably what it was worth then. Only collectors pay those ridiculous amounts. If he wants the nice vinyl sound, he could have gotten that one a lot cheaper.

A quick aside. Stanley’s partner during the disarming of the weapon was the guy who played the timid record store clerk Dick in “High Fidelity.” As he was pondering the stabbing of himself in the heart with a needle, I secretly wanted Jack Black to storm in blasting “Walking on Sunshine” while mocking Dick’s music choices.

Now, we are taken to a tourist showing of Alcatraz. This is where Gen. Hummel and his ragtag gang of ex-marines suddenly take the place over and lock all the fanny pack-sporting tourists into prison cells.

We then get a very “Austin Powers”-like phone call from Hummel to the president and his security staff (this was before a president would let in homeless-looking nutjobs like Steve Bannon into such places) demanding money for soldiers’ families — soldiers who were forgotten in wars both known and not known to the general public.

And my question here was why the (REDACTED) did Gen. Hummel have a video camera filming him talking to the president like an early version of Skype? He was already on the phone and everyone knew he had taken over Alcatraz. But this is not the last time I wondered about the overabundance of video cameras filming odd things in this movie for no reason.

Brown: There are cameras everywhere because they’re insane. That’s as far ahead as Bay thought it through.

So let’s explain what we’re dealing with as far as a weapon of mass destruction.

The VX gas is explained as a corrosive that we see kill one of Hummel’s men by melting his face and turning him into the Toxic Avenger. Stanley describes it as one of mankind’s biggest mistakes for inventing. I’d look up more about its deadliness, but I can’t help but laugh about how the orbs that carry the VX gas in the missiles look like bath bombs you’d buy on someone’s Etsy page.

So, while in the midst of coitus with his girlfriend on a rooftop (because Bay movie, women are used as nothing more than objects to lust over the main character), Stanley is called into action. But we got hostages and well-trained deserted marines at Alcatraz (that at least one has a man bun. Not a good armed services haircut), so they need someone who has an Encyclopedic knowledge of the former prison.

Froemming, bring us up to speed on our expert.

Froemming: His name in this film is John Patrick Mason, but make no mistake about it: This is James Bond! And let’s be honest, the film barely hides the fact that this is Bond, they merely changed the name. There are so many asides and Bond jokes relating to Mason here that I will simply refer to him as Bond.

This is Michael Bay’s James Bond film. Embrace it people.

He is a SAS agent who was captured in I believe the early 1960s, but broke out of just about every prison the government put him in. He has microfilm of America’s deepest conspiracies ranging from the JFK assassination to Roswell and whatnot and has hidden it somewhere and will not spill the beans on its location.

He also fathered a daughter one night after a Led Zeppelin concert. Which was such an odd random factoid thrown out in the movie that it stuck in my brain.

Brown: And the movie throws it in our face about how bright Mason is by showing us books of Shakespeare and “The Art of War” in his cell.

Mason doesn’t trust any FBI folks because he feels as though he’s wrongfully imprisoned (specially from Womack, the head of the FBI, who locked Mason up and threw away the key). So when Mason gives the FBI the cold shoulder, they turn to… Stanley Goodspeed? Dude is a labrat who has no field experience, let alone any negotiating experience. Dude is over his head.

Mason plays along with Stanley before somehow flattening a part of a quarter and using it to cut a hole in the double-sided mirror the agents are observing Mason with. Well, he cuts a circle and then elbows the glass because this movie is littered with BS.

Froemming: He is James Bond, he can pretty much defy logic and reason with his skills and charm!

Bond also demands a suite in a fancy hotel, where he starts plotting his escape by distracting the Feds with room service, and tossing Womack off a building after he gets a new haircut. I will not bring up the stupid grunge jokes this film makes because by the time it was released in 1996, grunge was already long dead.

And because he is Bond, he manages to escape via elevator and steals a fancy Hummer H1, giving us a breathtaking chase scene between 007 and Stanley, who suddenly becomes an expert driver who can also defy the laws of physics on the road in a stolen Ferrari F355.

Brown: Well, let’s be honest: Bay just wanted his version of the San Francisco car chase from “Bullitt.”

And here’s maybe my biggest plot problem with this movie. So, the FBI talks about how they don’t want to cause a panic in San Francisco by informing the public that Alcatraz has been taken over. First, wouldn’t someone working for Alcatraz as a tourist attraction alert someone about said hostage situation? Then, after the car chase causes an obscene amount of collateral damage, the FBI has to answer for some of this because now the public has to be panicked. Hummel gives 40 hours before he’ll launch the rockets… why not evacuate the town?

Froemming: To paraphrase Michael Bay to Ben Affleck, shut the (REDACTED) up, that’s why.

Well, Stanley loses 007 after destroying a large portion of San Francisco. But he figures out Bond is on his way to visit his daughter, who again was conceived after a night of brews, joints and the thundering music of Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham and Jimmy Page.

How does he figure this out? To be honest, I don’t remember. It was all jazzed by the trolley being derailed to follow this line of logic, which is how Michael Bay covers his ass in missing plot points.

Brown: Bay is like Mark McGwire in an episode of “The Simpsons:” Do you want to know the horrifying truth? Or do you want to see me hit some dingers?! DINGERS!

One more thing I want to address: The music. In the Mason chase scene, it sounds like you’re watching one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. Turns out, Hans Zimmer did the soundtrack for both movies.

Now, Mason finally agrees to help Stanley and the FBI because Goodspeed does him a solid and, when a cluster of cop cars show up to take Mason away, Stanley tells Mason’s daughter that he’s helping. Instead of, you know, causing flipped cars and fireballs all over half of San Francisco just minutes before.

And then you remember that Nic Cage is acting in this movie when after that touching scene, he turns from cop to screaming lunatic. May this man never take his meds.

Froemming: Cage’s performance here was much more reserved than the last film we watched him in.

Well, now we have the government grilling Bond on how he escaped Alcatraz in 1963. He gives vague answers and says he should just show them. OK, here is my problem with the premise of the film. Alcatraz was built by the government, they know every nook and cranny of that place because THEY BUILT THE (REDACTED) THING. Yet, Bond knew more about the innards of the place than they did. OK, that right there is some BS. Then they allow the guy to go with the marines and show them how to break in after three decades since he managed the impossible? I don’t think so. The government would have carpet bombed Alcatraz.

Brown: They do give a flimsy answer earlier in the movie that Alcatraz has been remodeled numerous times in the past so their material is outdated.

Froemming: Wouldn’t Bond’s then be outdated as well?

Brown: Look man, they tried to fill their plot hole with sticks and leaves and hoped no one would notice. Take your grievance up with Bay.

Let’s forget about plot and get to action as our (good) marines get ready to infiltrate Alcatraz!

Froemming: Well, because he is an expert on the chemical weapons the (bad) marines have, the Feds make Stanley tag along on this highly dangerous mission because why the (REDACTED) not at this point. And they sneak into Alcatraz via underwater doohickeys (technical term) that looked like what Snake used to sneak into LA in “Escape From LA” — minus the ridiculous CGI shark.

I would also like to add that I think this is the last film I have seen Michael Biehn in ever since. Godspeed, Kyle Reese.

Brown: Making their way through the sewers of Alcatraz after some (REDACTED) timing thing with the furnace from Mason, we hit a major roadblock. Despite their best efforts, our (good) marines set off a motion detector, alerting the (bad) marines. So, we have a standoff. Marines v. marines. But because our bad guys have the high ground (a battle tactic made famous in a galaxy far, far away by Obi-Wan Kenobi), they have the advantage. And after a brick falls from the dilapidated prison, we get a shootout that wipes out all of the (good) marines.

My question is, when any firefight happens in this movie, is there someone in the marines designated to hold up a strobe light when shots ring out? It’s so disorienting to have bright flashing lights in my face for over a minute.

Froemming: If it isn’t disorientating then it isn’t a Michael Bay film. Also, one of the (bad) marines is played by the guy who played Tuco Salamanca in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.”

Well, we now have only a martini-less James Bond and Stanley Goodspeed to save the Bay Area from total doom. Obviously Bond has no allegiance to the U.S. and wants to head back to London so he can have loud sex with some woman, because that is what James Bond does. But he has something to lose if the (bad) marines destroy the hippie paradise that is San Francisco — his daughter. So, he agrees to help Stanley fight these (bad) marines.

Brown: Oh, we also get a mining cart chase/firefight in this movie because why the (REDACTED) not?! I honestly think Bay saw one of his kids play “Donkey Kong Country” on the Super Nintendo and thought “Mine carts… lets use those in that Connery movie!”

Now that Stanley and Mason are on the same page, they start taking out some of the (bad) marines and are able to disarm most of the missiles by destroying the guidance chips embedded in the missiles. But  the two are eventually caught and locked up inside Alcatraz with only hours to go before Hummel’s deadline.

Froemming: No prison can keep James Bond locked up. As Stanley is whining about being locked in a cell, 007 uses a torn up bed sheet to lasso the thingamajig (technical term) that unlocks the cell doors, once again saving Goodspeed. I honestly was wondering what, exactly, did Stanley offer in this mission.

Brown: He offered an ability to hold bath bombs steady without killing… himself? I dunno. It’s a Bay movie, some ordinary person has to find a way to be extraordinary.

It’s deadline time and… well, Hummel reveals that he was bluffing. He had no intention of killing millions in San Francisco with chemical weapons, to the point that a missile they do launch, he diverts to explode in the ocean.

But hey, you committed treason, and two of the (bad) marines accept the fact they are now mercenaries. They want their money, even if it comes at the cost of a bunch of San Franciscans. I hope their first target was the home from “Full House” so we didn’t have to do “Fuller House” Season 3.

So while the (bad) marines are bickering, that gives our escaped heroes a chance to disarm the final two missiles.

Froemming: Well, this is where we learn that Bond was imprisoned for three decades for the microfilm he has hidden somewhere, probably in Oddjob’s hat. Bond takes care of the (bad) marines as Stanley goes to disarm the weapons, which I am convinced is the green goo from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze.” But the ooze is encased in the bathtub soap thingies that are incredibly fragile for some reason. Probably to make it easier to create Bebop and Rocksteady or something.

Stanley knows where to find the last of these because Hummel, not wanting to go down in history as a monster like Jimmy Carter, reveals it to him before he kicks the bucket.

Brown: During the final missile disarming, Stanley survives a marine attack by taking one of the VX bath bombs, shoving it in the guy’s mouth and watches his face melt like a Nazi in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But because of the gas’ potency, he could die as well. Enter our Atropine shot from before and Stanley is back on his feet. Only now, we have another time issue as fighter jets are on trek to destroy Alcatraz, like they should have done from the (REDACTED) beginning!

But in the nick of time, Stanley lights some flares and the jets fly overhead. Well, one bomb is let go, but it doesn’t kill anyone (how convenient!). It only sends Stanley into the Pacific, where Mason is there to save him. Doing another solid for the man, Stanley tells the FBI that Mason was vaporized by the bomb and is dead.

But before he leaves, Mason tells Stanley to go to Buxton, Maine, look for a long rock wall with a big oak tree and look for a rock that has no business being there a church in Fort Walton, Kansas.

Froemming: And Stanley finds the microfilm there, discovering who really killed JFK.

I think it is time for us to escape this review and head to recommendations.


Froemming: As far as Bay movies go, I enjoyed this one. It is not as ridiculous as “Armageddon,” which made me happy. All in all, it is a fun popcorn flick that doesn’t ease up on the momentum and kept me entertained for a few hours. I would recommend it.

Brown: Yeah, it’s a fun movie. I like “Con-Air” more than this one. But this one has some of that fun 90s lunacy you’d see from the fine folks of Simpson/Bruckheimer. Crack a beer, get some popcorn and enjoy this one.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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