Back in 1996, I made the comment that Tom Cruise's films seemed to be less
than stellar achievements. However, since then he has proven to be a solid
actor with "Jerry Maguire," "Eyes Wide Shut," and "Magnolia." Mostly, Cruise
has become the Dick Clark of superstars who never seems to age and always
plays righteous, good all-American boys a'la "Top Gun." Like some of his
lesser achievements, "Far and Away" and "The Firm," "Mission: Impossible" is
somewhat fluffy and mediocre yet it boasts some electrifying, entertaining
sequences amidst all the muddle.
Based on the hit television series of yesteryear, Tom Cruise plays Ethan
Hunt, an able protege of veteran IMF (as in Impossible Mission Force) agent
Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), and along with Phelps's team of undercover
operatives, they attempt to capture a Russian agent with plans to steal a
disc containing the identities of American agents stationed in Europe. Whew!
Of course, something invariably goes wrong with Phelps's master plan and it
is up to Hunt and a surviving female operative (Emanuelle Beart from "Nelly
and Monsieur Arnaud") to uncover the enemy who may be a former IMF agent.
The movie begins to lose track of an always intriguing premise - corruption
at the heart of an organization, which in this case is the IMF. There are
multiple twists upon twists upon some clever turns, and lots of latex
disguises courtesy of ILM. The elaborate plot does become a bit confusing
after awhile, but at least we have action scenes to marvel at.
There are two terrific action setpieces that are as thrilling and enticing as
anything I've seen since 1993's "The Fugitive." In one spectacular sequence,
Hunt descends froma ceiling onto a computer room which has a heat sensitive
alarm that can be triggered if the room temperature is above 98 degrees. This
sequence is filled with unbridled tension thanks to director De Palma's
uncanny choice of camera shots and editing strategies. The sequence, though,
works mainly because the soundtrack is filled with such utter, complete silenc
e that all you can hear is Hunt's drops of sweat.
Another titillating sequence occurs when the impenetrable Hunt is fighting
the villains on top of a super speeding train, which is also dragging a
helicopter. Scenes like this give "Mission: Impossible" an edge that
literally keeps you on the edge of your seat.
The ultimate flaw in "Mission" is that the plot is so convoluted that we stop
caring about certain characters, including Phelps (a far too restrained Jon
Voight) and the luminous Emanuelle Beart (Phelp's wife), both of whom become
as one-note as you can expect. This is really Cruise's show all the way (he
is also the producer) and he inhabits every single scene, making the
character of Ethan Hunt knowing, charismatic, witty and resourceful, like
just about every other character Cruise has played. I can't imagine anyone
else playing the role with the same level of sincerity - if only he would age
a bit. This often feels like "Risky Business" crossed with the James Bond
Cruise has some able support from bald-headed Ving Rhames ("Pulp Fiction"),
Jean Reno ("The Professional"), whose character has the tools to break into
any security system, Henry Czerny as the coldly calculating IMF chief, and
the wonderfully restrained Vanessa Redgrave (!) as some kind of underground
mastermind. There is also a funny, unbilled cameo by Emilio Estevez. Only
Voight and Beart seem to be sleepwalking through the proceedings.
Another plus is veteran director Brian De Palma who does a professionally
slick job fo directing, though his trademark style of nervous energy is
largely absent this time. For better or worse, "Mission: Impossible" is
fitfully exciting, electrifying nonsense...and terribly confusing and
impossible to follow.
Copyright © 1996 Jerry Saravia