Mission: Impossible (1996)

The summer movies are officially upon us, may heaven be merciful. Don't get me wrong. I am looking forward to this season, not just because of the big-budget studio films like The Arnold Movie and The Big Reptile Movie and The Jim Carrey Movie, but also because of some independents or risk-takers like Trainspotting, from Danny Boyle, the director of Shallow Grave, Francis Ford Coppola's Jack, starring Robin Williams ("Oh, I hate that disease!"), and the star-packed A Time to Kill, which, I am convinced, will bring a much-deserved Oscar to Samuel L. Jackson, and I do not even have to see it to say that.

That is why I was looking forward to Mission: Impossible, from director Brian DePalma, the twisted, disturbed man who brought us Carrie, The Untouchables, and Carlito's Way. Unfortunately, Mission: Impossible is not up to his usual standard. Oh, it is certainly watchable, even entertaining, but there is too much missing to class it with even his average pictures. Is this just the burden of being too successful, a big name? Maybe so, but even factoring this in, Mission: Impossible is still not much more than a star-driven, big-budget B movie. The Bonfire of the Vanities offers more pathos and emotional involvement, and MELANIE GRIFFITH is in it!

There is probably not much reason to be so down on it. Some have already second-hand tried to evaluate the rumors and buzz coming out of production to assess blame with the many screenwriters who were brought in to write and rewrite the thing during shooting, or with Tom Cruise, the producer, for exerting too much control over DePalma, etc., etc. That would be a waste of breath. The only and true culprit is Hollywood, which does not care to take a half-second to try to make an okay movie really exceptional, as long as it can draw an audience. And Mission: Impossible is guaranteed to do that. One of my friends heard that the movie was opening Wednesday, but she could not make it to that showing. So I said, "Why not wait until Friday, so you can read my review and see if it's worth going to?" "Yeah, right."

So I have no illusions about my poor power to add or detract from the huge box office this movie will bring in, or for that matter any movie critic's. It will make two hundred million dollars, and Tom Cruise will be able to pay the mortgage. (Whew! I know we were all worried for the kid.)

And nobody will feel too ripped off, either. After all, it is not painful to watch the movie, and (primarily, I am convinced, because of the old Mission: Impossible theme by Lalo Schifrin) when the action is really cooking, it moves as fast and powerful as anything ever has on screen.

The problems, then, are not overwhelming. Here they are. The plot is pretty much incomprehensible. If you bother to try to follow it, or retrace it, you will immediately find an inconsistency. Then you will think, "Wait. Is that really an inconsistency?" You will sit forward in your seat and convince yourself something deeper is going on for a second, then realize you were right the first time. It was just an inconsistency. Do not panic. It is just a movie, after all. Something will blow up soon and that will be fun. Especially if they play the music. Doot! Doot! Doot! Doot! Doo-doo-doo! Another problem is that few of the very, very good actors are utilized to their fullest. Kristin Scott-Thomas, Emilio Estevez, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Emmanuelle Beart, Ving Rhames, all have range that is never explored. And just a little exploration might have added some weight or substance to the story that would make it more than just a twisty little nothing of a film. As it is, though, Cruise is competent, and Vanessa Redgrave steals the movie, making Cruise look like a choirboy who has been singing too high for too long.

When you think of Cruise films, this will never top the list. When you think of DePalma films, this will never top the list. When you think of action films, this will never top the list. When you think of films made from semi-popular sixties television series, this probably would not even make the top five. Oh well. You can't have everything, I guess. Still, you can't help but feel that a couple of weeks more in pre-production, a nice quick script rewrite by Quentin Tarantino or Carrie Fisher or Elaine May, or even just a bit more Lalo Schifrin, take-no-prisoners theme music could only have added.

As it is, I would have to say to head in with low expectations, don't think too much, and make sure to pay matinee price, because it is worth it.

Links for Mission: Impossible

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review


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