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Junkfood Cinema: The Rock

By  · Published on June 10th, 2011

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema: we have come here to chew bubblegum and worship bad movies…and we’re all out of bubblegum. Pursuant to our mission statement, hastily written in soy sauce on the wrapper of a Zagnut bar, every week we will tempt your cerebral taste buds with all the most decadent, delicious treats it doesn’t want to admit it craves. We will slice, dice, chop, and screw the movie; basting it in its own faults along the way. But then it will lovingly bake in our hearts at 98.6° for 3–5 paragraphs until it becomes golden brown with our misguided affection. We will then transform metaphor into substance by offering an actual snack food item paired with the film in order that no part of your insides remain unaffected by this odious column. If losers are always whining about their best, we achieve the complete opposite effect by lauding the worst with a barbaric yawp.

Today’s Blue Plate Special: The Rock

What Makes It Bad?

Michael Bay. I had considered ending this paragraph with those two words. If there is anyone out there still harboring delusions that Michael Bay is a filmmaker of great artistic merit and intellectual substance, we would highly advise you to remove the action figure from up your nose. This is a guy whose mind is hardwired differently from the mind of you or I; much like a serial killer’s would be. He thinks only in terms of destruction, speaks only in explosions, and has all the practiced nuance of an adolescent chihuahua who hasn’t been on a walk in six months. His movies are light on complex plot the way fancy stationary stores are light on male patronage. Bay, on the other hand, makes movies specifically for men or, more to the point, men who were born without the capacity for stillness or abstract thought. They are burly, sweaty guy movies driven by a cheesy, hackneyed core of perpetual kinetic energy. By the time you get to the fortieth car crash, the hundredth flat punch line, or what I like to refer to as Bay’s cinematography carousel, the dubious hallmarks of his work will already be reaching through the screen and massaging your brain into a popcorn-butter-and-Twizzler-flavored goulash.

With The Rock, Bay’s formula was not only simple, but barely his own. He ripped a page out of the Die Hard playbook and scored his plot something to the tune of, “terrorists take over Alcatraz and threaten to release a very, very horrible gas unless they get what they want.” Action scene, action scene, hubris, credits. I know this because part of that bare-bones synopsis leaks out from one of his character’s mouths as Goodspeed actually refers to VX gas as “very, very horrible.” Simply replace John McClane with an aging, withered pile of once-great man flesh…and Sean Connery, and we’ve got ourselves a script outline. But then, as the “writing” process got into full swing, Bay was struck by the sudden and terrifying reality that there are very few things to blow up within the walls of a 90-year-old prison before the whole place would come crashing down. Thankfully, he managed to pull a very silly Hummer chase scene from his brain-ass and the movie was saved. Hooray!

Oh, Nicolas Cage. How I love to love your badness. In many ways, it’s just plain shameless how Hollywood managed to time and time again squeeze box office pay dirt out of this man’s obvious mental instability. I feel legitimately bad for Nicolas Cage because, and in The Rock this is especially noticeable, someone clearly accessed his brain and found a way to irreversibly interchange the basic meanings and natural weights of several different words. He hits the most mundane words and hopelessly clunky dialogue with the force of a sledgehammer coated in Chuck Norris fists and then squanders more meaningful phrases as if he’s ordering lattes. Case in point, the most care he takes with crafting the perfect delivery of a line is when he’s uttering someone else’s dialogue with the repetition of a scratched Beatles LP: “I’ll take pleasure in guttin’ you, boy.” Watching him flop his way like a dying fish through films like The Rock only furthers my appreciation for the filmmakers of late who have discovered the benefit of not trying to shoehorn a fairly self-evidently cuckoo Cage into normal guy molds.

Why I Love It!

I am a not-quite-thirty-year-old male who has been in love with the spectacle of movies his whole life and who routinely and voluntarily kills brain cells with copious amounts of alcohol. I might as well join a goddamn support group. “Hi, my name is Brian and I’m Michael Bay’s chief demographic.” I love every camera-twirling, hateful car-demolishing, fireball-dodging, bullet-riddled moment of this turd. If nothing else, I am hypnotized by another of what I have come to recognize as Hans Zimmer’s “Bruckheimer Owes Me Another Paycheck” scores. Zimmer’s use of ear-blistering electric guitar and sharp, syncopated violins makes every event sound like a grandiose military maneuver. Seriously, they could have shot Nicolas Cage getting a celebratory, post-filming mani pedi in his trailer scored it with Zimmer’s music, and suddenly it would become a harrowing, life-or-death struggle between man and cuticle. I do appreciate that Bay was forced to be a little more creative with his action sequences given the limited amount of space he had within the prison. It forced him to work more horizontally as opposed to just accelerating every conceivable object vertically through the aide of explosives.

In fact, The Rock is probably the closest Bay has come to making a legitimate film. I know right, put that on the fucking poster! While it has many of the familiar trappings of a Bay blockbuster orgasm, the fact is that, save for the San Francisco chase, many of the stunts are uncharacteristically reserved and focus on the impact and strange poetry of violent death; the shower room massacre leaping immediately to mind. But even that is subject to interpretation, mine being possibly more generous given my desperate love for this film. But what isn’t deniable is that The Rock features Bay’s most nuanced and layered villain to date. Gen. Hummel, played with greater care than this film deserved by the always-outstanding Ed Harris, is a man driven to heinous acts by the even more deplorable actions of our own government. He is a man whose intentions, despite his resorting to villainous means, are predicated upon the just and the right. Whether it be in film, fiction, or comic books, villains are always far more interesting if they were once heroes, and that is exactly the concept at the heart of this character.

Sean Connery. Again, the temptation to end this argument with that tawdry fragment was incredibly strong. Sometimes I look at Sean Connery, already in his mid-60s by the time The Rock was filming, and I just want to forfeit my man card in defeat. The man thrives as an action hero even while collecting Social Security…or Socialized Whiskey Distribution or whatever the hell they call it in Scotland. In fact, he’s so great in this role as to demand new classification for his type: The Geriaction Hero! His record as James Bond offers an authenticated basis for his badassdom while his ability to deliver wit and silver foxitude so formidable as to drop your girlfriends panties through the television round out his powerful screen presence. This is the movie that makes me sad that the man retired from movies…well this and all the good movies he was in.

Junkfood Pairing: Pop Rocks

Having already exhausted rock candy as a junkfood pairing when writing about Rocky IV, I was struggling to come up with another rock-centric treat. When the idea of pop rocks entered my brain, the aptness of this candy delight immediately struck up the Zimmer score and sent my mind spinning in unnecessary, but visually-arresting circles. As you watch Michael Bay’s ode to the American prison system, dump a whole slew of these bad boys into your facehole. Soon you will be enjoying miniature explosions in your mouth just as Michael Bay has erupting inside his skull 24 hours a day.

Put down your lucky crack pipe and go read more Junkfood Cinema

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.