Mission: Impossible II (2000)

reviewed by
Edward Johnson-Ott

Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, Rade Sherbedgia, (uncredited) Anthony Hopkins. Music by Hans Zimmer. Story by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga. Screenplay by Robert Towne. Directed by John Woo. 127 minutes. Rated PG-13, 3 stars (out of five stars)

Review by Ed Johnson-Ott, NUVO Newsweekly www.nuvo.com Archive reviews at http://us.imdb.com/ReviewsBy?Edward+Johnson-Ott To receive reviews by e-mail at no charge, send subscription requests to ejohnsonott@prodigy.net or e-mail ejohnsonott-subscribe@onelist.com with the word "subscribe" in the subject line.

The DVD format is perfect for a film like "Mission: Impossible 2." Through the wonders of DVD, you can savor the thrilling opening scenes, hop, skip and jump through the sluggish center section, then enjoy the walloping non-stop action of the last 40 minutes or so of the feature. Just for the hell of it, you could even use the fast forward button to boost the various slow motion shots back to normal speed (which would likely make the film a good 10 minutes shorter). Of course, "M: I-2" won't be available on DVD for six to eight months, so, in the meantime, viewers will just have to suffer through the dull stuff in exchange for the juicy moments. It's a fair trade.

"Mission: Impossible 2" marks the much anticipated meeting of legendary action Director John Woo ("Face/Off", "Broken Arrow"), Tom Cruise and the "M:I" franchise. Woo hurls every one of his trademarks into the fray: martial arts, gorgeous slo-mo, birds taking flight, billowing clothing, swirling camerawork and operatic violence, all set to a thunderous score. In fact, Woo even winks at the audience this time around: During one particularly tense scene, he positions sitting birds around darkened hallways, making us wonder when they will take Woo-flight and reveal our furtive hero's presence to the bad guys.

Where the first "Mission: Impossible" suffered from an overcomplicated plot, matters are more straightforward this time around. Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) finds his vacation interrupted by a crisis of potentially global proportion. Renegade agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) is out to steal a horrific Ebola-like virus called Chimera, developed by an evil pharmaceutical company so they can cash in on the antidote. To aide in his quest, Hunt recruits super thief Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton), Ambrose's former honey-bunny. Needless to say, Hunt and Hall become an item almost immediately. With veteran computer expert Luther Stikell (Ving Rhames, the only actor besides Cruise to return from the first film) providing backup, the chase is on.

The film opens in high style, with a confrontation above the clouds that guarantees that "M: I-2" will never be shown as an airline movie. Cut to Ethan Hunt on holiday, climbing a beautiful, harrowing red rock face thousands of feet above the earth (Cruise insisted on doing his own stunt work for the scene and the result is unusually exhilarating). After Hunt receives his mission instructions (delivered by Anthony Hopkins in an uncredited cameo), Woo jumps to the titles, then to stars, then to Spain for the next sequence, which introduces Thandie Newton. It's a great beginning, followed, unfortunately, by a long draggy stretch. Aside from a playful car chase, not much happens for far too many minutes.

Beyond the laborious plot mechanics, there are relationship problems. While Cruise and Newton make a fine couple, Ethan Hunt and Nyah Hall bond too quickly to create a sense of emotional weight. The instant intimacy between the pair hurts the later proceedings; each of them is willing to make enormous sacrifices for the other, but it doesn't quite feel credible. To a lesser degree, Hunt and Ambrose suffer from the same trouble. We see a fury between them that goes beyond the simple good guy-bad guy dynamic, but the source of the intense personal animosity is not explained. A little more information would have helped enormously.

Instead, we get seething looks and a dull mid-section, with the wonderful Ving Rhames relegated to the background to keep the lead hero, the lead heroine and the lead villain squarely in the spotlight. Despite the rubber masks and messages that will self-destruct in five seconds, this film is more 007 than Impossible Missions Force, with Tom Cruise as the Bond du jour. While Cruise is more than up to the task, I missed the teamwork that made the TV series (does anyone even remember the TV series at this point?) so much fun.

For the last 40 minutes of "M: I-2," John Woo pulls out all the stops and delivers the kind of action that should have been spaced throughout the entire film. The man remains a master of style, as evidenced by the flames reflected in Ambrose's eyes, a single bird flying through a fiery door and a phenomenal motorcycle duel. Woo needs to be careful if he continues repeating stock flourishes, he risks self-parody but for this film, they still pay off. "Mission: Impossible 2" lacks emotional punch and the center section sorely tried my patience, but the film remains a hell of a ride.

 2000 Ed Johnson-Ott

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