Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 17, 2011 1:03 pm 
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Mission impossible becomes possible

The fourth "Mission Impossible" in the franchise delivers excitement and fun -- in fact the consensus is it's the best one yet. It's just a bit too long, presumably because if you've got $140 million to make a blockbuster and you're herding people into an iMax theater, overkill is what you do. The initial two of the film's three parts are terrific. The first one, set in Russia, which blows up the Kremlin, is thrilling. The second, Dubai one, which dangles Tom Cruise off the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, as a sand storm approaches and has a voluptuous and evil blonde assassin (Léa Seydoux) trading diamonds for nuclear missile codes, is bright and vivid craziness, nail-biting, dizzying, and conceptually complex as Inception. Couldn't they maybe have stopped there? The third, Mumbai, sequence feels a little like the movie has worn out its welcome. (Total runtime is about 133 minutes.) How much do we need a sleazy Indian billionaire (Slubdog's Anil Kapoor) clumsily seducing the feminine interest (Paula Patton) while Jeremy Renner sweats suspended in the air by magnets? The thrill (or my attention span anyway) had diminished by then -- though the final scene of the film nicely set things up for a sequel with warm camaraderie and a heartening twist.

Renner is an original choice as a sidekick. But while he impressed so much in Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, he falls a little flat here, figuratively as well as literally. Patton is as she needs to be, a pretty face with a certain amount of action pizzaz. Besides, she's got great skin and looks awful good in a strapless gown. It's Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg though, hardened up and slimmed down, who makes Cruise's best sidekick this time, bringing warmth and humor with just a touch of s goofiness. He's the everyman on the scene whom we can all identify with, a little overwhelmed yet thrilled to be there and somehow keeping up. Nobody in the movie gives Cruise much competition, really, not even the evil Russian genius who threatens to blow up the world (Michael Nyqvist). The franchise has always belonged to Tom and belongs to him more surely than ever in this most triumphant version. He has always been hanging in the air. This time in Dubai his exploit will not only dazzle you. It will make you seriously afraid of heights.

We enjoy this movie, knowing it hasn't the depth in exploring its hero or the sophistication about politics, culture, and language of the Bourne series, or the elegance, bold silliness, and debonaire seductions of the James Bond series. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol both pares things down and pumps them up. It uses Tom Wilkinson in a brief scene to show the parent organization of IMF having a meltdown, leaving Cruise, Patton, and Pegg alone and unsupported, with only the newly arrived sidekick Renner, to help some and eventually reveal his emotional backstory. Then it mostly focuses on its exotic locales without bothering to give much of a sense of international repercussions, in spite of the fact that, if the mission fails, the planet will be blown up. The movie has nothing original, only up-to-date technical gimmicks, mechanical traps and escapes from them. The plotting is very much back in the Seventies where the original TV series comes from, with the same catchy Lalo Shifron theme and the familiar formula to set up the caper: "Your mission, should you choose to accept it..."

In fact, events start with a blatant return to Cold War paranoia and crude James Bond knockoffs. A mad genius would bring "peace" to the planet by launching a nuclear holocaust, and the Kremlin explosion sets back US-Russian relations to Cold War levels (though everything techie is futuristic). The movie begins by ingeniously breaking out Ethan Hunt from a prison, a more elaborate version -- prison doors are nervously computer-controlled by Simon Pegg's character, Benji -- of the nifty escape in a cheaper, dirtier, but really quite fun and exciting movie from earlier this year, Olivier Megaton' Latina supergirl thriller Colombiana.

There was speculation that the commercial failure of Tom Cruise's inexplicably minor and self-indulgent (but still entertaining) outing with Cameron Diaz last year, Knight and Day, would jeopardize the future of another Mission Impossible. It didn't. Funny, this movie hasn't one tenth the IQ of the new John Le Carré adaptation, Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But right from the first few minutes it's much more enjoyable. And more convincing than its predecessors. Some notable directors have tried the franchinse, stating with Brian De Palma in 1996. The Hong Kong gangster - cop movie ace John Woo tried his hand in 2000. J.J. Abrams, now producer, raised the bar a bit in 2006 and got better reviews. This time there has been a surge of critical approval when the Brad Bird, the director of Pixar's unsung masterpiece The Incredibles (and Ratatouille), switched from animation to humans to direct MI4.

Why is this one better? There's not much you can say except that it takes itself seriously, it avoids cheezy romance, and its action is dazzling -- at least during the Russian and Dubai segments, and that's a lot of action. Walter Chaw sums things up thus: MI4 "is filled to stuffed with clever gadgets (and their logical application), exotic locales, beautiful women, and fast cars. It's sexy, sleek, knows better than to take its foot off the pedal, flirts with relevance without ever attempting depth it's not equipped to deal with. . .not content to stage a brawl in a parking garage, it finds one of those robotic ones to provide a third dimension to the scrambling in vintage, brilliant, 1980s Hong Kong style." Indeed that parking garage battle, repetitious when you watch it but stunning when you think about it, just about justifies the third, excessive, Indian segment of the movie. And later Ethan Hunt is thrown from the most convincingly and totally demolished fast car in a movie ever. Brad Bird, great animation director, has been reborn as Brad Bird, great action director.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol goes into limited release in the US December 16, 2011, and wide release December 21.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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