Mission: Impossible 2
Directed by John Woo
Review by Matt Heffernan
Tom Cruise starred last year in two roles that are atypical of an actor in his position. Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut was a bold experiment that failed, essentially wasting two years of Cruise's prime. Then came P.T. Anderson's Magnolia, which put him in a rare, non-starring role that won him great acclaim, adding the prestige to his career that the previous film was supposed to bring. With that period behind him, he is once again ready to be Tom Cruise: Movie Star.
Once again, Cruise plays super-spy Ethan Hunt, whose rock-climbing vacation is cut short by a new mission. Another agent, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), accompanied Dr. Vladimir Nekhorvich (Radé Sherbedgia) on a flight, disguised as Ethan. Instead of safely transporting Dr. Sherbedgia, Ambrose and a party of cohorts cause the plane to crash, right after they parachute off. Ethan is assigned to stop Ambrose's sinister plan.
Unlike the previous Mission: Impossible plot, this one is a little easier to follow. Dr. Nekhorvich created a highly powerful virus by accident, and then invented an anti-virus to stop its fatal effects. Ambrose is going to sell both of the substances to Biocyte, a pharamceutical company run by McCloy (Brendan Gleeson), who is willing to pay $30 million. Ethan has to recruit Ambrose's old girlfriend -- a professional thief named Nyah (Thandie Newton) -- as a means of getting inside the operation. Along for the ride is an Australian pilot named Billy (John Polson), and Ethan's old teammate Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames).
The main reason that Mission: Impossible 2 is so much easier to follow is that Robert Towne has gone to great pains to overstate key points in his screenplay. The previous film, which he co-wrote with David Koepp (Stir of Echoes), is one of my favorite action films. I've seen it at least three times, but I still can't fully understand it. Now, he depends on loads of expository dialogue, and weird tricks like people pulling off face masks and voice modifiers to reveal their true identity. When we first see Cruise, and it turns out to be Scott, there was a definite "Scooby Doo" flashback ("And I could have disseminated that virus, too, if it weren't for those nosy kids!").
So, the screenplay tends to low-ball the audience, and the actors have to suffer a little for it, but the real attraction here is the masterful direction of John Woo. His brilliant action sequences and lightning-fast pacing make this film zip right through its two-hour running length. Rarely have I ever been so amazed and delighted to see gratuitous shootouts. The way Woo films them, however, they play like grand ballets. His combinations of varying camera speeds and seamless imaging make each scene more breathtaking than the last. When I saw the film, the audience was literally giddy at the sight of it.
If I had to compare it to another film out today, I would easily choose Dinosaur. It's the same deal: technically peerless, but tremendously flawed in the narrative. Despite what more pretentious folks might say, writing for these kinds of films is extraordinarily difficult.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan