My Buddy is a Cage – The Rock (1996)

When a rogue general (Ed Harris) holds Alcatraz hostage and demands the United States government atone for fallen soldiers, Cage’s Dr. Stanley Goodspeed pairs with an imprisoned MI6 Agent (Sean Connery) and a crack Navy SEAL team to diffuse the situation. Let’s not forget said situation depends on Harris’ threat to launch confiscated bio-missiles on the denizens of San Francisco.

Two things are apparent: the Bruckheimer/Bay fetishes — car porn, explosions a la carte, military chest-puffing, low angle pans, Hans Zimmer’s bombast — are all in The Rock. They’ve also never been better since. It’s easy to rip Revenge of the Fallen fans, but Michael Bay must be an intelligent man. You’d be hard pressed to glean this via auteur theory as Bay’s filmography lacks much complexity and nuance. But the man delivers, often to undeniable profits. 

The Rock could have so easily slipped into vapid spectacle. A gunfight here, a side boob there. So much of Transformers (a film I like) is mindless, but The Rock’s savvy scripting never shies away from a messy — and pointed — center. General Hummel is of course an ‘ends before means’ kinda dude, but he’s not the granite pillar of archvillainy one expects would devise such a ludicrous gambit. No, Harris’ forced attrition of American world policing and the costs that come with it is extreme, but despite Alcatraz’s refitted mousetrap of motion sensors and camouflaged minutemen, his driving philosophy never becomes a stale MacGuffin. For action fare, the writing here is sharp, with Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin allegedly uncredited contributors to the project. For crying out loud, the film pokes fun of how stupid “Goodspeed” is for a last name. And make no mistake, Goodspeed is a stupid last name, regardless if Connery’s well-read P.O.W. is willing to break down its etymology for us.

Despite his history lessons though, Connery’s John Mason is a hoot and a half, displaying all the exuberance of a tween on a GameStop shopping spree but with some serious skills under his belt. Mason gets even better, too if one pretends he’s a former recipient of code name ‘James Bond,’ and that this is just Jerry Bruckheimer’s lavish fan fiction finally realized on the big screen. I mean, casting Connery as a captive MI6 agent? Come on!

Following his Bad Boys debut one year prior, Bay again proves to be a remarkably competent action director. His compositions are layered and show an early knack for kinetic storytelling, despite the film’s purported 2.5 ASL or countless infractions of the 180 degree rule. Acquiescing to Nic Cage’s thoughts on his character is also a good sign, if only because Goodspeed’s Casey Kasem-styled exclamations and ‘gee willikers’ attitude might be more fun than an incoherent string of f-bombs.

And with that, he talked himself into liking Michael Bay.

* * * * *

Want more Cage? You got it.

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