Not only are all these action-thrillers starting to sound alike (can anyone really tell the difference between "Desperate Measures" and "Extreme Measures?"), now they're all starting to look alike.

And though "Mercury Rising" has nothing in common with the icky horror splatterfest "Deep Rising," the film isn't really that much better. (Nor were its original, rejected titles "Simon," "Simple Simon" and "Mercury Falling").

For one thing, its plotting is so routine and predictable that it may as well have been called "Die Hard With an Autistic Child in Tow" or "Who's Trying to Kill Gilbert Grape?"

The movie's premise is so ridiculous that some audiences might mistake it for a comedy: Simon, a 9-year-old autistic savant (Miko Hughes, of "Spawn"), cracks a top-secret military code by solving a puzzle in a magazine. (Yeah, right!)

That leads unhinged National Security Agency official Nicholas Kudrow (Alec Baldwin) to send an assassin after the boy. Though he succeeds in murdering Simon's unwitting parents, the killer is unable to dispatch the youngster.

Enter Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis), a disillusioned, outcast FBI agent who not only finds the missing boy right off the bat, he also becomes his protector — both foiling further assassination attempts and discovering the conspiracy behind them.

To the film's detriment, director Harold Becker ("Malice") is unable to sustain any real tension. And even if he were, he'd still have to overcome the awful dialogue by screenwriters Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal ("For Love or Money").

But you have to give Willis some credit for keeping a straight face while he delivers some really cliched lines, which are virtually free of jokes. Baldwin, though, gives yet another one-dimensional performance, and Williams' portrayal of an autistic youngster too often consists of gazing in the wrong direction.

"Mercury Rising" is rated R for violent fistfights and gunplay, profanity, gore and brief drug use.