The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
"Mercury Rising'' is about the most sophisticated cryptographic system known to man, and about characters considerably denser than anyone in the audience. Sitting in the dark, our minds idly playing with the plot, we figure out what they should do, how they should do it, and why they should do it, while the characters on the screen strain helplessly against the requirements of the formula.
The movie begins with the two obligatory scenes of most rogue lawman scenarios: (1) Opening hostage situation, in which the hero (Bruce Willis) could have saved the situation if not for his trigger-happy superiors; (2) The Calling on the Carpet, in which his boss tells the lawman he's being pulled off the job and assigned to grunt duty. "You had it--but the magic's gone,'' the boss recites. Willis' only friend is a sidekick named Bizzi Jordan (Chi McBride), who has, as is the nature of sidekicks, a wife and child, so that the hero can gaze upon them and ponder his solitude.
Experienced moviegoers will know that in the course of his diminished duties, Willis (playing an FBI man named Jeffries) will stumble across a bigger case. And will try to solve it single-handedly, while he is the object of a police manhunt. And will eventually engage in a hand-to-hand struggle with the sinister man behind the scheme. This struggle will preferably occur in a high place (see "Climbing Killer,'' from Ebert's Little Movie Glossary). Plus, there's a good bet the hero will enlist a good-looking woman who will drop everything for a chance to get shot at while at his side.
The new twist this time is explained by the evil bureaucrat (Alec Baldwin) in one of several lines of dialogue he should have insisted on rewriting: "A 9-year-old has deciphered the most sophisticated cipher system ever known--and he's autistic!?!'' Yes, little Simon (Miko Hughes) looks at a word game in a puzzle magazine, and while the soundtrack emits quasi-computeristic beeping noises, he figures out the code concealed there, and calls the secret phone number, causing two geeks in a safe room to leap about in dismay.