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the film may be called mercury rising , but that title doesn't describe the trajectory taken by this motion picture , a routine thriller that combines government cover-ups with a cloying and poorly-motivated buddy story .
the " hook " that is supposed to make mercury rising unique is that the young protagonist is autistic .
however , aside from giving actor miko hughes a chance to win raves for his performance , this particular aspect of the film comes across as nothing more than a convenient plot device .
those expecting to see even a semi-thorough exploration of the condition will be disappointed .
mercury rising treats autism with the same degree of efficiency that many action thrillers accord to alcoholism .
the script for mercury rising is exceptionally tiresome and hard- to-swallow .
i don't know whether the problem is in the original book , simple simon , or in the screenplay adaptation , but this movie easily exceeds the intangible threshold beyond which a suspension of disbelief is no longer possible .
once again , certain standby plot elements -- the high-level government conspiracy and the maverick law enforcement agent -- are recycled , and not to good effect .
while bruce willis can play the action hero as well as anyone in hollywood , this particular outing leaves him marooned in situations that are characterized by too little tension and too much nonsense .
the story begins with a formulaic sequence in which the tough fbi agent with a heart of gold , art jeffries ( bruce willis ) , is confronted with his own failure .
unable to resolve a hostage crisis in time , he is forced to observe as two teenagers are shot to death .
the event weighs heavily on his conscience and heavy-handedly establishes his motivation for protecting 9-year old simon lynch ( miko hughes ) when he discovers the autistic child hiding in a closet after his parents have been gunned down by the evil hit man who looks like an ex-football player .
soon , art and simon are on the run from seemingly everyone -- fleeing for their lives and bonding at the same time , with the evil hit man who looks like an ex-football player always just a step behind them .
along the way , they are helped by the best friend who defies orders to help out his buddy ( chi mcbride ) and the supporting female who may or may not become a love interest ( kim dickens ) .
why is simon in danger and why were his parents turned into swiss cheese by the evil hit man who looks like an ex-football player ?
apparently , the government has spent millions of dollars developing an ultra-secret code called " mercury . "
to make sure it can't be cracked , they do the most intuitive thing possible : place a sample of it in a " nerds' puzzle magazine . "
of course , no one can solve it -- no one except autistic simon , that is .
when he calls the phone number listed in the solution , he gets the nsa .
as a result , the cold-hearted , sneering government man ( alec baldwin ) decides that simon has to be eliminated -- for the good of the country , of course .
but he hasn't counted on the tough fbi agent with a heart of gold , even though everyone in the audience has .
it's hard to get worked up about a routine thriller that doesn't do anything exceptionally well , and does quite a few things rather poorly .
for those who are desperate to find elements of this movie to like , mercury rising manages to manufacture tension from time-to-time , but even the most exciting scenes ( such as the one where art and simon are crouched down , avoiding passing trains ) aren't that pulse-pounding .
the climactic struggle is a real ho-hum affair which leads to a finale that is painful in its obviousness .
overall , director harold becker is constantly struggling ( and failing ) to generate even a moment that isn't derivative or obligatory .
bruce willis' star seems to be fading .
this is his fourth straight lackluster outing , following last man standing , the fifth element , and the jackal .
willis isn't terrible , but this is the kind of role he can sleepwalk through , and often does .
alec baldwin , combining elements of his characters from glengarry glenn ross and malice , does some scenery- chewing , but his performance is surprisingly lacking in menace .
the film's real star is young miko hughes ( heather langenkamp's son in wes craven's new nightmare ) , who does as good a job as dustin hoffman playing an autistic individual , but is about 50 years younger .
mercury rising joins the likes of hard rain , the replacement killers , and u . s . marshals on the heap of pallid 1998 thrillers .
for those who like action and adventure in the theater , this has not been a good year .
hopefully , the advent of summer will change that .
until then , the best choices ( for bruce willis or any other action hero ) are on video .
and , if you're determined to see mercury rising , check out the morning sky in early may .