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The Rock (1996)

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Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery headline this amped-up action thriller from reliable hit-makers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (producers of Crimson Tide, Days of Thunder, and Top Gun). Cage plays an elite chemist who is paired with Connery’s ex-con escape artist to infiltrate the abandoned prison island of Alcatraz to stop a disgruntled marine general (Ed Harris) from releasing a deadly nerve gas into San Francisco.

On one hand, The Rock embodies everything loathsome about 90s action movies: it’s full of crashes, explosions, firearms, military pageantry, and everything else to send macho men’s testosterone levels spiking. Director Michael Bay (Bad Boys, Armageddon) never allows the camera to sit still for a full second. The movie’s over-produced, over-directed, over-lit, and over-scored. With all this working against the film, you’d think I’d hate it. But I actually really enjoy The Rock.

The casting of Nicolas Cage as the main hero is an inspired choice. This is Cage at his Cagey-ist. He’s as hilarious as he is heroic. He makes it easy to forgive all The Rock‘s stylistic indulgences to go along with him on this ride. Then there’s Connery at his cool and witty best. The two men have excellent chemistry, going above and beyond to elevate The Rock from other action flicks. The screenplay centers wisely on their partnership and gives them a bounty of wonderful dialogue — some of it immensely quotable: “Losers always complain about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.”

There’s no other Michael Bay movie I can stomach, and the Simpson/Bruckheimer polish often rubs me the wrong way. But the screenplay for The Rock doesn’t take itself too seriously, at times even touching on self-parody. It’s a beautiful environment in which drop Cage and Connery. They make the humor work because of their acting chops, and they make the action work because we care what happens to them. The Rock is one of the best of the big 90s actioners.

With an impressive supporting ensemble that includes Michael Biehn, John Spencer, William Forsythe, and Tony Todd.

Oscar Nomination: Best Sound