Mission: Impossible 2

In the inevitable yet ultimately tired sequel to “Mission: Impossible,” a brilliant secret agent turncoat has stolen a deadly virus and plans to use it to hold the world hostage. Instead of the usual Swiss Bank account payment, he demands stock participation in the pharmaceutical company that has developed the antidote.

missionimpossible2It’s a modern twist to an old dilemma, one of many in “Mission: Impossible 2.” Unfortunately, for all its twists and turns, the sequel fails to generate the breathtaking thrills of the original. The plot and characters are pedestrian, leaving poor star Tom Cruise stranded. His character, Ethan Hunt, is the only interesting thing about the film.

The artistic failure of “Mission: Impossible 2” rests on the shoulders of director John Woo and writer Robert Towne, both remarkably talented men. Together, they are guilty of the worst cinematic crime: they made a boring movie. Most bad movies serve as celluloid car wrecks. You want to slow down to get a better look. “M:I2” demands that you put the pedal to the metal.

The mechanics of Towne’s screenplay are so absurd that it’s hard to take any of this seriously. The first film., which also benefitted from a script by Towne (and numerous high profile script doctors), was rife with surprises and suspense. Under the tight direction of Brian DePalma, “Mission: Impossible” was both satisfying and nostalgic. It retained the flavor of the original 1960’s television series.

“M:I2” feels like it was cut from the same cloth as “The Matrix,” written and directed to appeal to sixteen year old boys who won’t be offended by the pulsating soundtrack or lack of credibility. All they care about is rock and roll action, and under the direction of John Woo, “M:I2” won’t leave them disappointed.

Those expecting more, like a clever plot, or smart dialogue, will be left out in the cold. “M:I2” offers a chilly reception to anyone with an IQ higher than dirt.

Director John Woo seems like a natural choice to direct a “Mission: Impossible” sequel. His ability to transform standard material into something kinetic should have been enough to turn “M:I2” into something exciting. However, his visual style has been imitated so frequently that it has now become a cliche. The same thing happened to Brian DePalma on “Snake Eyes.” What was once dazzling and original has become old and tired.

That puts the emphasis on the characters, and here where the film self-destructs. Cruise is fine as Hunt, even more square jawed than usual. After his dynamic performance in “Magnolia,” Hunt is a stroll in the park for Cruise. Cruise manages to make is a brisk walk, using his killer eyes and smile as much as high tech weapons to disarm his enemies.

Hunt has a love interest in “M:I2,” professional thief Nyah Nordhoff Hall (Thandie Newton), whom he is assigned to recruit for his latest mission. Newton is such a fine actress (“Jefferson in Paris,” “Beloved”) that it’s a shame to see her wasted here. Her character is so poorly written that Newton has nowhere to go. Nyah’s big dramatic moment is so grandiose that it robs Newton of any honest emotion.

Dougray Scott fares even worse as Sean Ambrose, the former IMF agent in a position to hold the world for ransom. Turncoats are always fun to play, yet Scott never reaches. It’s a paint-by- numbers performance in which all of the colors are light gray. Even returning cast member Ving Rhames is wasted, forced to spend the entire film planted in front of a computer screen. If this were a movie about a computer virus, that would make sense.

Little makes sense in Towne’s screenplay, which is a major embarrassment from the man who wrote “Chinatown.” Maybe Towne was hoping that Woo’s fast-paced direction would be enough to hide his gaps in logic, yet the plot holes are so big that even Evel Knievel would be scared to jump over them.

Everything that was clever in the first film seems dated here. “Mission: Impossible” deftly exploited the elements of the series, including the unique ability of the IMF agents to disguise themselves. Towne overuses these devices until the element of surprise is gone. Most suspense is lost because we’re way ahead of the characters.

What director Woo delivers are set pieces connected by an invisible plot thread. That would have been enough five years ago, but there comes a time when substance must overtake style. “M:I2” not only seems influenced by “The Matrix,” but at times resembles it.

The action looks awfully familiar, and is it coincidence that star Cruise wears a black leather jacket and sunglasses during his prolong gated fight scene? It doesn’t help that “M:I2” was also shot in Australia, the new Hollywood down under.

The musical score by Hans Zimmer, heavy on pulse-pounding guitar rifts, also seems geared towards teenage boys, who demand that the volume be turned up until their ears bleed. It’s not a very provocative score, something of a step down for Zimmer.

“Mission: Impossible 2” will probably be a hit. There are enough sixteen year old boys who are gullible enough to see it more than once. There’s still a franchise left in the series. Hopefully Cruise and his production team will take their time and get it right next time. Until then, if you want to see a real caper film, check out the video “The Thomas Crown Affair” with Pierce Brosnan.

DUMB DUMB DUMBImpossible sequel on Cruise control


Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, Ving Rhames, Anthony Hopkins in a film directed by John Woo. Rated PG-13. 126 Minutes.


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