Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 15, 2006)
For a prosperous franchise, the Mission: Impossible movies suffer from an awfully low profile. We’ll hear more about them in the time that leads up to the May 2006 release of Mission: Impossible 3, though that seems like a sequel few demanded to see. That strikes me as odd given the profits earned by the first two. 1996’s Mission: Impossible snared $180 million, while 2000’s Mission: Impossible 2 did even better with $215 million. Both flicks landed in third place on their respective years’ box office charts.
So why doesn’t the franchise seem to generate more heat? I don’t know, though I suspect it relates to the quality of the film. Both of the first two flicks are perfectly respectable and entertaining, but neither quite catches fire.
Impossible introduces us to “Impossible Mission Force” (IMF) agent Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) and his team. They go to Prague to stop the theft of a computer file that will allow baddies to connect agents to their real names. Unfortunately, the operation goes awry and most of the personnel – including Phelps – dies. Only Phelps’ right-hand man Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and Phelps’ wife Claire (Emmanuelle Beart) remain alive.
Matters get worse for Hunt. He meets with another IMF agent named Kittrick (Henry Czerny) who informs him that a second team tracked Phelps’ squad. They did so due to suspicions that a mole worked from the inside. Since Kittrick doesn’t know of Claire’s survival, he sees Hunt as the sole person to make it out of the botched operation, and that seems to brand him as the mole.
Hunt spends the rest of the movie in an attempt to work both sides of the fence. He connects with the underworld to exploit their knowledge of the mole while he attempts to keep away from IMF forces that seek to capture him. Plenty of twists and turns come along the way.
Though not so many twists and turns that we become confused and/or lose interest. Before I snagged this DVD, I’d not seen Impossible since its theatrical run almost 10 years ago. I didn’t recall a whole lot about it, though I seem to remember that the plot was a bit convoluted.
It remains moderately murky, but not atrociously so. If you boil it down to its basics, it’s a simple Hitchcockian tale of a guy unjustly accused of being a baddie who tries to clear his name. It echoes other flicks like The Third Man as well, and it occasionally threatens to become buried under its own machinations. However, if you focus on the greater picture and worry less about the details, it’ll make perfect sense.
For the most part, the plot feels a bit superfluous. It does little more than act as a setting for the various action scenes, and those usually don’t disappoint. The movie’s signature sequence that comes when Hunt dangles above a protected room at the CIA remains quite tense and dramatic, and the climactic battle on the Bullet Train also roars to life well.
How about the rest of the flick? Well, it doesn’t soar, but it keeps us interested enough to sustain us between set pieces. The presence of a strong cast helps, though not all of them prosper. Cruise seems only sporadically convincing as super agent Hunt. Much of the time it feels like he tries too hard to be a badass. Cruise can’t pull off that attitude, and he comes across like a little boy in a man’s suit. He never falters enough to harm the movie, but he doesn’t add to it either.
On the other hand, Vanessa Redgrave provides a wonderful – though too brief – spin as one of the baddies. She chomps the scenery with relish as she turns in her work. On the surface, Redgrave seems like an odd person to show up in an action flick, but she displays no signs of discomfort or the impression she feels she’s slumming. She makes her brief sequences a consistent delight.
In the end, there isn’t a whole lot to say about Mission: Impossible. Brian De Palma directs it with just enough flair and gusto to make it work, but he never quite brings out any true personality. The movie entertains and remains enjoyable; it simply lacks enough distinctiveness to become memorable.