A young autistic savant with unrealised code-cracking skills becomes the subject of a tug of war bewteen the FBI and the NSA.
Every so often, Bruce Willis finds his action feet and serves up another strident blockbuster of cerebrally uncluttered running and jumping (usually as one John McClane) that reminds you why he's such a star. In between, he either risks a spot of variety, or unfortunately resorts to the mind-numbing routine of substandard brawn-and-bullet fare. To wit Mercury Rising.
Young autistic savant Simon (Hughes) phones a number he's spied in a puzzle book, and sparks panic at the covert National Security Agency. The number, it transpires, was encrypted in a new super-code dubbed Mercury; its appearance among the crosswords and anagrams apparently the last stage (random human reaction) in its billion dollar development. An eight-year-old boy seeing through it is something of a setback.
But before Simon can be sent the way of his rapidly dead parents, he's saved by burnt-out and mistrusted FBI agent Art Jeffries (Willis), and the pair go on the run from a lethal NSA hitman and Jeffries' increasingly unsympathetic employers.
This relationship is the movie's first wasted element, the caper underpinned by a perfunctory emotional journey calling briefly at frustration, progress and connection en route to mutual trust. And the one glimmer of novelty - having Willis play a low-order Fed with little clout descending into career nadir - is completely abandoned in time for a confrontation with Baldwin's slimy NSA director and a ridiculous rooftop showdown so obviously located in Die Hard territory it beggars belief.
Any film involving code-cracking malarkey has an absolute responsibility to supply real thrills - there are few topics more inherently intrigue-laden than espionage, international deception and countries quietly trying to stitch each other up - but this has somehow failed to tap into the richest of suspense veins.
An anaemic time-waster you've seen before that fails to create tension or generate the suspense this genre cries out for.