Cinema Signal:

.
"Mission: Impossible 2"

If the idea of this movie was to create a mission that was at least as impossible as the one in the previous MI outing, it serves the purpose--it's more than difficult. If it was to display high action and well choreographed fight sequences, it does this with style and panache with John Woo's signature airborne acrobatics. If it was to convince us that Tom Cruise is not just a pretty face but an accomplished athlete capable of many of his own stunts and a convincing degree of mountain climbing, you have to see it for yourself to believe.

Producer Cruise did say, in an interview, that he acquired a few scratches and bruises from doing a lot of his own stunts, and you can see what he was talking about. When an actor has such capability, far more complex and convincing action shots can be made, even though they're enhanced by clever and quick editing. So, a pat on the back to a gymnastic Cruise.

Another pat to director John Woo for casting Thandie Newton. Since the plot, and Mission Specialist Ethan Hunt's (Cruise) preoccupying motivation is to rescue this tough maiden of silky skin, Newton easily convinces us of the possibility that he'd put his life on the line so daringly and dementedly for her. Not seen by this reviewer since Bernardo Bertolucci's 1998 "Besieged" with John Malkovich, she surely has to rank among the top ten or so film beauties. She's a sparkling jewel with a matching personality.

Born Thandiwe Newton in Zambia of a Zimbabwean mother in November, 1972, we think she's destined for future roles off the star list. Her prior credits include Sally Hemings in "Jefferson in Paris", "Journey of August King" (1995), and the disastrous "Beloved" in 1998.

Cruise's initial courtship of her by catching her as a cat-burglar attempting to steal a valuable necklace, letting her go in order to recruit her, car chasing her on a hairy mountain road in a signature Woo automobile ballet, and finally bedding her with a fine morning-after pillow-talk moment, is fun as well as cinematic. As his agent, he then sets her into the vil-lion's den only to have to extract her after she injects the virus into her arm.

The crashes, action sequences and effects are all accomplished pretty much seamlessly and professionally though one criticism of this movie is overabundance. But, it will work for the action audience despite director Woo's inclination to overdo a good thing. In this deparment, he's not a master of the subtle. His decision to repeat the hung-from-a-cable stunt in Mission Impossible 1 (though this time fast instead of slow) is cute, but I would have advised something different enough to remind us of that unique feat while bringing something new to the stunt lexicon.

The mission concerns the retrieval of a new virus against which there's no known cure, and the antidote for it that will make a fortune for the chemical company that's developed it. Trouble is, the CEO of the company (Brendan Gleeson -- another unique casting) is a bad guy who'll wipe out one of his scientists to prove the effectiveness of the virus. Small wonder that he'd get into business with an archvillain or two who might top his villainy. Actually, he doesn't have too many options once the virus and the antidote fall into the hands of former mission specialist Dougray Scott, the primary villain of the piece.

The cross-current between who has what at any particular time and who is wearing who's face (Woo borrowing and overdoing his effect from his prior "Face Off") gets confusing at moments in the film, but this won't bother those who are coming to the theater for Cruise and/or the action. To this audience, momentary confusion is a minor irritant.

Robert Towne, the screenwriter and Academy Award winner for the 1974 "Chinatown", offers this guideline: "...it is not the characters who have been complex in 'Mission: Impossible,' it's the mission". Anthony Hopkins plays the mission advisor in typically brilliant, if brief, fashion. Ving Rhames is present as the computer expert backing agent Hunt.

Though I've said above that subtlety is not part of the John Woo action mentality, in fairness I'd like to add that he does occasionally take the time to convey a thought or feeling in a look between characters. These moments work especially well in the context of otherwise frenzied pacing.

Rated G, for Gymnastic.
Estimated cost: $100,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $210,000,000.
Paramount, 126 minutes, Rated PG-13

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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