Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis) is your typical tormented FBI agent. You know the type, haunted by his job, yet so good at what he does that even physically assaulting another agent merely gets him a slap on the wrist.
Enter Simon (Miko Hughes), an autistic boy, who, like Rain Man and all other autistic people, is a savant. He can merely gaze at a super-encrypted message, and, while little computer beeps go off in his head, he can understand what it says.
Naturally, this talent has brought him to the attention of the federal government. Lt. Col. Nicholas Kudrow (Alec Baldwin), an NSA offical bubbling over with evil, has spent countless time and money implementing the newest "unbreakable" code, Mercury. However, when two of his underlings (Robert Stanton and Bodhi Pine Elfman) publish a Mercury-encrypted message in a puzzle magazine as a final test of its effectiveness, Simon cracks the code. Naturally, this infuriates Kudrow, who sends a terminator-like hitman (L.L. Ginter) to eliminate the security hazard.
And that's where Art Jeffries comes in. For some reason that's never explained in the film, the FBI is called in to help, and through a series of intricate machinations, Art becomes the sole protector of the young autistic boy. In a few unrealistic sequences, he enlists the aid of a stranger, Stacey (Kim Dickens), to help out, but she is given very little to do overall.
The central concept behind Mercury Rising is ludicrous. Why bother trying to kill the kid...I mean, who would know? It's not like the kid (or anyone else for that matter) knew he was cracking a government super-cypher. And even if he is eliminated, what does that help? He's already proven that Mercury can be broken. There's always the chance that someone else would crack it...but I guess without a kid in jeopardy, there's not much of a movie here.
For all its faults, the film actually starts relatively well (once you pass the painfully familiar teaser). The film flirts with developing real characters, and a semblance of a plot...then Mr. Terminator the hitman appears and everything begins going downhill...quickly.
Miko Hughes does a decent job, for his age, at creating a touching performance. However, don't go to this film looking for any new insights into autism (not that many people will). Instead he merely becomes the latest unique partner in a routine buddy-cop movie (think Cop and a Half...with a twist!)
Willis and Baldwin are just overplaying to type. Rather than creating a nuanced character, Baldwin simply oozes sliminess. And for Willis' part, he simply recycles the stock role of the loner cop/FBI agent (which he has honed in the Die Hard series). As almost an afterthought, about halfway through, the film carelessly gives him a character trait (an addiction), and then drops it in the next scene.
But the biggest problem with Mercury Rising is the screenplay. This film wasn't well thought out at all. The film goes to extraordinary lengths to pad in as many convenient coincidences as possible. The carbon paper scene alone is unworthy of the most gullible audience member. At first the bad scenes just trickle in, but by the gruesomely bad finale they're a veritable flood.
The film's few decent moments come in the form of bad jokes (mainly from the geeks who developed the supercode). But they're not nearly enough to make the film worthwhile. Mercury Rising is a thriller that you're more likely to groan at than cheer.
[R - violence and language] (Universal)