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Mercury Rising (1998)

MPAA Rating: R

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EW's GRADE
D

Details Rated: R; Genres: Action/Adventure, Mystery and Thriller; With: Alec Baldwin, Miko Hughes and Bruce Willis

The wizards who dream up titles seem to have given up trying. If you're going to call a movie Mercury Rising (Universal) — quick, what's it about? an interplanetary disaster? an asteroid? a thermometer? — you might as well go all the way and add the tag line ''This spring, action has a new name! We just can't remember it.'' It's staggering to contemplate the profligate decadence of an industry that would lavish tens of millions on a thriller in which Bruce Willis, as an FBI hothead, protects a 9-year-old autistic savant (Miko Hughes) who finds his parents murdered after he cracks the code of America's new defense-security system. (The code was hidden inside one of the kid's brainteaser puzzle books. To so much as ask how it got there is to lend the script a credibility it doesn't deserve.)

There's something almost quaint about the way that Mercury Rising jams together the premises of various mismatched hits, hoping — in vain, I'd say — to ignite box office sparks. The angelic, puppy-eyed, mostly silent hunted boy (Witness) is a numerical genius (Rain Man) protected by Willis' surly renegade prole (just about every Willis movie since Die Hard). Since the kid, whose name is Simon, barely exists as a character, his bonding with Willis doesn't even approach the boilerplate emotion of a disease-of-the-week TV movie. Winsome Miko Hughes, who's too placid to be convincing as an autistic, doesn't get to do much besides string out the syllables of lines like ''Mom-mee, Si-mon is home!'' The nuttiest thing about Mercury Rising is that when Alec Baldwin, as the silky-voiced evil defense honcho, explains that he took his cutthroat actions to protect the lives of American undercover agents, he actually sounds quite reasonable. You can just about feel the imbecility rising. D

Originally posted Apr 10, 1998 Published in issue #426 Apr 10, 1998 Order article reprints