You had it. But the magic’s gone.

MERCURY RISING (1998)

Shooty: -1/5 Kicky score: -3/5
Enjoy with: the cheapest bottle of red wine you can find. If you’re watching this movie, you don’t deserve to have nice things.

“Mercury Rising” promises very little and delivers even less. Prepare to be bored out of your mind as you endure Bruce Willis on a mission to protect the life of an autistic child from Alec Baldwin and his voluminous hair.

Apparently set in a world where only men work for the FBI, Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis) is an undercover agent who loses his mojo, and job, after witnessing the traumatically bad death scene of a teenage boy. Committed to being miserable, Art carries on as your standard pissed-off maverick agent whose only unique selling point is that he drinks schooners rather than bourbon – a character trait that is more offensive than it is original.

On the other side of town, we meet a young autistic boy, Simon (Miko Hughs), who accidentally deciphers an unbreakable code in a puzzle book. Planted by NSA employees, we’re expected to believe that this was published to prove that the secret cryptographic super-code, “Mercury”, is impenetrable. Or at least that’s the excuse given to their boss, Colonel Kudrow (Alec Baldwin). Like you, he does his best to grapple with the absurdity of this plot point, and after an interesting/awkward attempt to explain what autism means and how the child is harmless, Kudrow decides to do what any normal ignorant person would. Double down on this nonsense and hire the lousiest assassin (Lindsey Ginter) to kill the kid.

Luckily for Art, the assassin is competent enough to shoot Simon’s parents and trigger the chain of events that lead him to be the kid’s personal bodyguard. But unable to hit a target further than a range of five feet, the assassin is never established as a threat. There are a satisfying few minutes where another guy has a go at popping the kid -Peter Stormare cameo- and ends up getting his face kicked in before it’s used to resurface rail tracks. After that, the film lulls along bereft of any sense of danger or suspense.

Spoiler: you’re not supposed to know Kudrow is behind the attacks until the end. Jokes, I really haven’t spoiled anything. It couldn’t be more obvious Kudrow is the film’s villain. There’s creepy, ominous music that plays when he paces in his bunker style office. He continually smiles to himself and keeps his hair slick back and puffy. Christ, at one point he even walks his kill-on-sight German Shepard in the middle of a storm! When you use a formula, you’re supposed to dilute it with something, not leave it shit-powdered dry.

The movie attempts to compensate for the lack of action by drowning us in dialogue that forces you to sit through constant reminders that Simon is autistic and needs to be protected from men who are coming to kill him. It’s excruciatingly repetitive and only serves to show how insecure the film is about its plot. Eventually, a conversation happens where a confession linking Kudrow to the attempted murder comes to light, but it isn’t remotely newsworthy. If you haven’t already, you’ll be itching to put the film on mute.

Granted “Mercury Rising” is an attempt to disparage some myths about autism. Focusing on the point made in a conversation with the bigoted Kudrow, “Autism is not synonymous with diminished capacity”. Nevertheless, it still portrays a narrow perspective of life with autism by playing into the stereotype of the autistic savant. The film perpetuates this by calling on Simon’s abilities as a device and leaving him in the background the rest of the time. There are no other attempts to really explore the spectrum of his feelings and experiences, suggesting his only value is as a savant.

It could have been a more satisfying story if Art spent less time “not getting this kid” and more time listening and learning. Yet true to the movie’s shallow nature, there was no indication the relationship could tread deeper.

Despite its drawbacks, at least the film is a nice walk down memory lane. Taking us back to a time when you could leave a vulnerable child in a coffee shop with a woman you think “looked kind” (Kim Dickens). The 90s were a purer age when the F.B.I were men and women were maternal figures that you spoke over and kissed on the cheeks. Oh boy, thank goodness for the women in the film. If they weren’t all loving and obedient what would happen to poor Art and Simon? The police or social services might get involved. Art might have even be gunned down as a suspected abuser who’s maltreating a screaming child. Who knows how strong female characters could have ruined everything? Luckily the Director (Harold Becker) didn’t have to tarnish his film with any of this misplaced modern sentiment and deliver some truly satisfying two-dimensional females.

For those of you out there who plan to make it through to the end of this film sober, don’t. Or if you do, try to have the decency to get drunk as quickly as possible once it’s over. You’ll need to blot out the hours you have just lost – if not for your own sake, for Bruce’s.

Runtime: 111mins
Certificate: 15 – the number of times you wish you were watching something else
Dir: Harold Becker
Novel by: Ryne Douglas Pearson
Screenplay: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal