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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 04/09/1998,

Mercury Rising

In a film where puzzle-book mazes and other brain strainers figure prominently, director Harold Becker (City Hall) gets lost in a snarl of sorry narrative turns. The chase begins when Simon (Miko Hughes), a nine-year-old autistic savant, cracks a top-secret government code to piss off a National Security big wig (an insipid Alec Baldwin). Now a moving target, the boy shuffles into the care of a renegade FBI agent played by Bruce Willis with the proper scowl-to-squint ratio.

Thanks to the autism twist, Simon is conveniently fearless -- he walks toward hurtling trains, navigates ledges -- and allows Willis some dramatic heroics. Hughes as the not-so-simple Simon is convincing, even touching, but he's undermined by a laughable techno sound effect whenever he's crunching code. And once the film has taken its jabs at government and technology, it chucks its thematic ambitions for the same old glass-smashing, crowd-shrieking shootouts. In the end, Mercury plummets. At the Copley Place, the Fresh Pond, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

-- Alicia Potter