A tense tale of rebel military officers who take over Alcatraz Island and threaten to unleash rockets on San Francisco unless their demands are met, this is a pure popcorn picture that benefits heavily from its trio of highly skilled, charismatic leading thesps, an unusual setting that provides plenty of visual stimulation, and a confrontational standoff that actually stems from a legitimately provocative premise.
The yarn has its share of gaping holes and jaw-dropping improbabilities, but director Michael Bay sweeps them all aside with his never-take-a-breath pacing that refuses to allow more than a few minutes to go by without some new dilemma that only ac-
tion, not talk, can resolve.
Opening stretch is given over to the perpetrator of the dastardly scheme, Brig. Gen. Hummel (Ed Harris), a veteran of every U.S. military engagement since Vietnam. Considered a legend and a super-patriot, Hummel has overseen dozens of covert operations in which men were lost and has reached his limit with the government’s refusal to acknowledge these soldiers’ contributions or to provide their families with the benefits received by those of other combat victims. He is, without question, a rebel with a cause, and a plausible one at that.
But his scheme is off the wall. With an elite unit of like-minded mutineers, Hummel absconds with a bunch of rockets loaded with deadly V.X. liquid gas, takes 81 hostages from a tour group on Alcatraz and promises to launch the missiles on the Bay area unless Washington forks over $ 100 million from a secret slush fund within 40 hours.
Furthering the conspiratorial air of illegal activities and under-the-radar government shenanigans is the emergence of the only man who can save the day, John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery), a former SAS operative who was secretly imprisoned for making off with J. Edgar Hoover’s most closely held secrets.
He also happens to know Alcatraz better than anyone, having successfully escaped from “the Rock” before being put away forever.
Officially, Mason doesn’t exist, but he is nonetheless compelled to lead a team of Navy SEALs underwater to Alcatraz. His job is to guide them up through the bowels of the old fort, and FBI biochemical weapons expert Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) will disarm the rockets.
Hummel has other ideas, however, and his men ambush all the commandos except for Mason and Goodspeed, who must then try to finish the job by themselves before the Air Force is obliged to attack and kill all the hostages along with Hummel and his outfit.
If you can’t tell it’s a Simpson-Bruckheimer picture within the first reel or two, the tip-off comes soon enough, when Mason, looking like John the Baptist and about as old, demands a suite at the Fairmont Hotel and a complete makeover (from an incredibly caricatured gay hairdresser) before cooperating with the authorities.
Once he looks sufficiently dashing, he dangles the FBI chief, his old nemesis , over the edge of the hotel and leads Goodspeed on a gratuitously and disagreeably destructive car chase.
He follows that with a brief chat with the daughter he never met, then dons his wetsuit in what is, for Connery, a little homage to the aquatic interlude of “Thunderball.”
Bay, who debuted with the same producers’ “Bad Boys” last year, seems right at home with the macho posturing, tough talk and military logistics, as he delivers a hard-hitting, fast-moving thriller that, if anything, works overtime to make sure the audience will hang on every incident and maneuver.
Script seems tailor-made to extract the particular charms of each of the three leading men. With occasional sly references to his British intelligence background and other Bondian traits, Connery trades winningly on his sophisticated, elegant sense of cool, and callowness of many of the youngsters around him is nicely shown up by his older-but-wiser finesse.
Cage, in his first appearance since his Oscar win, proves equally engaging as a sort of goofy chemical-set geek who must rise to the occasion of proving he’s a man among the he-men elite.
He makes Goodspeed’s early, bumbling attempts to act tough genuinely amusing and provides a necessary human connection in a world otherwise populated by ultra-pumped military types.
As the righteous soldier who may or may not have tipped over the edge, Harris is similarly outstanding, conveying the discipline but also the thought and weight behind his extreme decisions.
Supporting perfs are considerably more one-dimensional.
Technically, pic is the most well-oiled of machines, with loads of rockets, heavy artillery, planes, choppers, cars, a Humvee and underwater gear providing plenty of toys for big boys to drool over. Lensing by John Schwartzman bathes certain key scenes in blues and blacks so that the blood doesn’t show too much. Richard Francis-Bruce’s editing never lets up, nor does the synthesizer-dominated score by Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer.
Pic’s dedicated to Don Simpson.