Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Mission: Impossible 2

By Marc Savlov

MAY 29, 2000: 

D: John Woo; with Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Anthony Hopkins, John Polson, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott. (PG-13, 127 min.)

Your opinion on this John Woo-helmed sequel is going to depend on whichever camp you found yourself in following the 1996 original, which legendarily divided audiences straight down the middle. If you recall, one group praised the film for its smart, somewhat byzantine plotting while the other group found it sorely lacking in summer action theatrics and generally too damn clever for its own good (not to mention having far too many shots of Mr. Cruise's blindingly white choppers). While at the time I veered toward the latter, a recent second look has put me solidly in the former camp: Smart is better, regardless the season. That said, Hong Kong-turned-Hollywood auteur Woo acquits himself admirably with the series' second outing, although with a plot seemingly straight from Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli's James Bond plot-generator, the surprises are few and far between. With M:i-2, Woo has combined his trademark flair for elaborate action set-pieces with his more classically romantic underpinnings, resulting in a film that could easily have been retitled Young Agents in Love. It's rife with matchless stuntwork and derring-do on the part of Impossible Missions Force superspy Ethan Hunt (Cruise), but the script, by none less than Robert Towne (Chinatown, Shampoo, The Firm), tends to bog down in the sort of needless exposition that you identify with Fleming's 007 ("One thing I don't understand, you fiend: How did you circumvent the satellite's onboard anti-tamper device?" "Ahhh ... Mr. Bond, so glad you asked! Allow me to explain in excruciating detail while my wide-bore laser inches toward your crotch!"). Woo's earlier, arguably better Hong Kong pictures were hardly immune to this sort of momentum-savaging exposition either, though rough dubbing and garbled subtitles usually act as an inadvertent bridge between action and non-action scenes. Here, however, these sorts of backhanded plot explanations are readily apparent. If you can get past this sort of oversimplification (and I'll bet you can), Woo's film is as fast and frenetic a ride as he's ever produced. The plot about the theft of a potentially globe-threatening biotoxin known as Chimera by a rogue IMF agent (Scott) is pure Sixties drivel, but Towne's snarky dialogue and twisty plot logic renders that argument obsolete. M:i-2 has so much roller-coaster fun getting where it's going that the ride is all that matters: The means justify the ends. Along with Cruise, Rhames returns as computer and communications whiz Luther Stickell, and drop-dead gorgeous Newton (Beloved, Jefferson) pops up as Hunt's love interest. As always with Woo, the surface of the film is thick with manly issues of honor, betrayal, and, yes, even a little bit of love. The interplay between Cruise and Scott echoes the previous male dynamics essayed in Woo's The Killer and Hard-Boiled, but the glaring homoeroticism of those earlier films is vastly toned down for stateside appeal. It hardly matters, though, when you have Cruise and Scott trading body blows atop growling motorcycles, dueling at 80kmph atop an Australian clifftop, while the fate of the free world hangs in the balance yet again. As pure a summer popcorn overdose as you're likely to find, M:i-2 is breezy, breathless, brainless fun, falling just short of Woo's own Face/Off but head and shoulders above anything else out there just now.

3 Stars

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