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'Mission: Impossible 2': A hero, a babe, a motorcycle
(CNN) -- It's a bird? A plane? An amusement park ride? No, it's "Mission: Impossible 2."
Fasten your seat belts, folks. "M:I2" rocks. It even makes sense, if anyone cares, which apparently they don't since the first "Mission: Impossible" in 1996 was totally illogical but still managed to pull $181 million in the United States alone.
In other words, that mission was accomplished. Now, bring on the sequel.
Tom Cruise has returned as Special Agent Ethan Hunt, and Ving Rhames has returned as Luther Stickell, one of his team of experts. But that's where the resemblance between "M:I1" and "M:I2" ends.
The original (based on the TV show of the same name) was directed by Brian De Palma and was so dense no one could follow the plot. It was just a series of highly dramatic explosions.
A mission that makes sense
This "Mission" is different. It's directed by John Woo, a guru of Hong Kong action films, and augmented with a straightforward, simplistic, connect-the-dots script by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Robert Towne. The result is a film as slick and mindless as they get. Woo continues to defy the laws of physics, and his stylistic touches are everywhere -- his signature slow-motion shots, scenes featuring pigeons and gunfights that barely stay within the screen's confines.
Cruise, at this stage of his career, is also the perfect star for a Woo action film. Lean and mean, with great cheekbones, expressive dark eyes and a heavy brow, he could easily be the hero in any number of Japanese anime films. In other words, he's perfectly cast in a big, splashy cartoon that goes boom! whenever possible.
Thandie Newton plays Nyah Hall, an international jewel thief Hunt recruits to foil her evil former lover, Sean Ambrose, played by Dougray Scott. Ambrose wants to blackmail the world with a deadly virus; naturally, he's the only person on the planet with a cure, so Hunt is the only man who can stop him.
Bond? James Bond?
Newton's character begins as just a lovely pawn in the game. But when Cruise's character falls in love with her she's placed in jeopardy, and that peril becomes a main plot point. If that sounds sort of familiar, that's hardly a surprise: At times, this storyline seems to be a combination of James Bond-meets-Alfred Hitchcock in "North By Northwest," (1959) with Newton playing the role portrayed by Eva Marie Saint in the Hitchcock film.
Anthony Hopkins is brilliant in a cameo role in which he plays Hunt's boss. He gets the best line of the movie: "Well, it's mission impossible, Mr. Hunt -- not mission difficult."
The much ballyhooed rock-climbing sequence, which features Cruise dangling thousands of feet in the air, is visually stunning but ultimately cheesy; it's not part of the plot at all. Instead, it's just a bit of grandstanding thrown in, apparently to show how brave and macho -- or stupid, or insane -- Cruise and Woo can be.
Never mind, though. It looks fabulous! And, really, eye candy is what this film is all about. That, and the soundtrack: Composer Hans Zimmer's score, which includes a kick-ass version of the film's signature tune, is a perfect accompaniment to Woo's visual style. Toss in some thunder courtesy of Metallica and Limp Bizkit and you soon know that this is not your father's Mission: Impossible.
Cruise, motorcyle wild man
Unfortunately, Cruise and Newton have absolutely no chemistry -- zip, nada, none. Your average refrigerator light bulb generates more heat.
But put this guy on a motorcycle and stand back. Sure, stunt men were everywhere in this film, but the cycle sequences (especially at the end of the film) are eye-popping, and Cruise is in shot after shot. No one's ever filmed anything quite like these seemingly impossible action scenes on bikes. Steve McQueen would be green with envy, or red with blood.
"Mission: Impossible 2" is pure escapism and never pretends to be anything else. Be prepared to oooh and aaah over the action scenes, then promptly forget the whole thing, unless you want to climb on board again -- just like someone staggering off a roller coaster.
Which is what the filmmakers are hoping you'll do. Repeat viewing is vital to a blockbuster.
Hey! "M:I2" is an amusement park ride!
"Mission: Impossible 2" opens nationwide on Wednesday and is rated PG-13 with a running time of 123 minutes.
Summer comes early to the cineplex
Official 'Mission: Impossible 2' site
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