If you really think about it, pretty much everything about Mercury Rising is really, really ridiculous. The plot is one of those overcooked potboilers that’s jumped out and simmers on the stove, the government agencies here are all heinously corrupt and run by arch villains who employ comic book assassins, going out of their way to literally murder a young autistic kid (Miko Hughes, poor guy barely escaped Freddy Krueger before they put him through this nightmare) who has cracked the NSA’s most top secret code. The director of the NSA would have to be a convincing enough asshole to even vaguely pull off something so out there, but they got lucky in hiring King Asshole Alec Baldwin, who is simply hilarious in the role, justifying his sociopathic actions with delusions of unilateral national security as only the best, most self respecting villains do. It’s up to disgraced, incorruptible FBI agent Bruce Willis to shepherd the poor kid through a minefield of contract killers, attempts on his life and bodies that pile up along the way. As absolutely postal as it is in terms of a realistic plot, it does still work as a solid thriller thanks to Willis’s charisma, Baldwin’s devious charm n’ smarm, some decent action set pieces, Miko Hughes’s convincing portrayal of his character’s condition and a well rounded supporting cast. Standouts include Kim Dickens as a kindly girl who helps them out, Peter Stormare as a mute terminator style thug dispatched to hunt them as well as John Carroll Lynch, Kevin Conway, Chi McBride and Jack Conley. Made with a reliable big budget and all the fireworks in play, it’s serviceable stuff but for its hysterical premise. A group of maximum security convicts takes over an aircraft?
Okay. Terrorists with nerve gas take Alcatraz hostage? I’ll buy that. Drilling a hole, planting a nuke and blowing a deadly asteroid in half? Sure, why not. It’s just something about the director of the NSA coherently sanctioning the death of a child and putting so much effort into it that has me chuckling. Baldwin sells it I guess, in his greased hair, gravel voiced, Draconian way. Watch for his eventual confrontation with Willis in a wine cellar, it’s the warped highlight of the film.
If Tales From The Crypt were set in the Deep South with more of a pulp crime vibe, you’d get Wayne Kramer’s Pawn Shop Chronicles, a sweaty, sleazy anthology mixup with one legendary ensemble cast and a deliberative effort to disturb the audience at every turn. Segmented into three zany outings, each one connected to a shady pawn shop run by Vincent D’Onofrio and Chi McBride, by a different specific item each time. In the first it’s a shotgun which passes through a few different meth addled hands, as two strung out junkies (Paul Walker and Lukas Haas) foolishly try to rob their cook/dealer (Norman Reedus, but it could have been anyone because you literally never see his face). This is one grease-ball comedy of errors, as these two morons are way too high to actually get anything done, their feverish efforts culminating in a noisy Mexican standoff, an enjoyable bit especially to see Walker playing way against type. The second story is the most perversely extreme, as we see Matt Dillon and his new bride buying a wedding ring from the very same shop. Suddenly he recognizes another ring that belonged to his missing ex wife and gets all determined to track her down. This leads him to the home of clean cut yuppie Elijah Wood, who of course is anything but innocent and one ups his depraved character in Sin City, no easy task if you’ve seen that film. Speaking of one upping, director Kramer seems to be trying to outdo himself and churn out a story more sickening than the infamous ‘Hansel and Gretel’ sequence in his crime masterpiece Running Scared. While not quite as effective as that, this midsection will make many squirm and have you nervously eyeing both the door and the spot on the seat in front of you where a barf bag should be. The third and silliest tale sees Brendan Fraser as a sad-sack Elvis impersonator who can’t hold down a gig. It’s odd because this sequence is sort of pleasant even, Fraser being his usual affable self makes you feel vaguely comforted after the heinous happenings in the previous Matt Dillon bit. I wish I could rave about this flick, but there’s a few inconsistencies; some of the writing is shallow and disengaged, and in other spots it tries to hard to be shocking, while in Running Scared, for example, that just came organically somehow. However, it’s never short on entertainment value and you certainly won’t forget it anytime soon after. Plus there’s even more actors in the impressive lineup including DJ Qualls, Pell James, Kevin Rankin, Sam Jennings, Matt O Leary, Michael Cudlitz, Ashlee Simpson and Thomas Jane as a mysterious cowboy apparition. The very concept of a southern themed, vaguely horror anthology set around a pawn shop is brilliant though, and this almost seems ripe for an episodic streaming pickup, via Netflix or the like.
Joe Carnahan’s Narc is a proper old school ass kicking crime picture, and a blistering one that pulls no punches in the grit department either. Carnahan is clearly in love with the rugged action/genre pieces from the 60’s and 70’s that he grew up with, and every film he has made so far in his career has been reflective of that, starting with this excellent debut. He comes charging out of the gate as fast as his lead character breathlessly pursues a perp through a run down suburban neighborhood, a sequence of pure visceral brilliance that sets the tone and let’s us know he means business. Jason Patric plays Nick, an under cover narcotics officer with a decorated past and the scars to show for it, working the dankest streets of motor city Detroit. When a recently slain fellow officer’s case is reopened, he is picked to investigate, joined by the deceased cop’s former partner, Lt. Henry Oak (Ray Liotta). In this case, nothing is what it seems, agendas are hidden well, and violence constantly simmers just below the surface of every interaction and exchange of dialogue. This is especially the case with Liotta, who gives a staggering career best performance as a cop on the edge of sanity, justifying his heinous actions on the body of his slain friend. No one knows how to lose their cool like Ray, but here he is downright terrifying, a wild eyed monster and the epitome of the guy not to trust, lest you be driven down the same destructive path. Nick uncovers more secrets than he ever wished to know, and it all comes full circle in an angry, pulse rocketing confrontation that serves as one of the best blow ups in the genre, and goes to show you don’t need a huge epic gunfight to cap off your story with style and intensity. Carnahan wisely keeps the fireworks man to man, and intimate in nature, proving once again what intuition he has in the director’s chair. Chi Mcbride is always reliable, here playing the gruff police captain, and Busta Rhymes proves yet again that he’s one of the few rappers who can actually act, giving a pretty damn committed performance as a thug. Liotta owns this one in pure beast mode, but the team effort is what makes it so special, and a crime classic. Carnahan and Co. have done something timeless for crime films, and raised the bar on the intensity level one can attain when everything is in place, and firing on all cylinders. A powerhouse of a film, and a mini masterpiece.