Sunday, December 18, 2011

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” – I swear I’ve been here before.

As time passes on, things inevitably change. It’s been a month since I last saw a movie in the theater (Tower Heist) and all kinds of things have changed for me. My wife got a new job, we’re having a kid, we moved to a new house; I even had a birthday and changed my official age. Change is exactly the thing that movie stars fear the most, but in the case of the latest Mission Impossible, it’s not just Tom Cruise who refuses to accept change – the entire movie is almost a carbon copy of the first Mission Impossible. Quite possibly, Tom Cruise and the movie franchise are suffering from a mid-life crisis. At least they have each other.

Ghost Protocol is the fourth installment of a series that refuses to get better. I’m not saying the movies are bad – in fact, they are the type of movies that get better with multiple viewings (thank you Turner cable channels for thousands of showings) – they just don’t aspire to better their predecessors. Honestly, try ranking them and then asking other people to do the same and see what you get. I promise it will be nearly split across the board. I remember thinking the first one was only the okay, the second one was a joke, and the third one was better than the second one. I also remember very little about either of the two sequels and that’s saying something for someone who does not take notes about movies, then writes about them. Need proof? I was excited that Simon Pegg was in the fourth one because I actually like his movies. Upon review, I discovered he was in the third one and still cannot remember because a) the movie was that forgettable and b) maybe I’m getting old.

Speaking of old – and, yes, I know how this is going to sound – we saw the movie in IMAX and it was way too fucking loud (cursing is required; that’s how loud it was). “12,000 watts of digital audio” roared the IMAX intro prior to the film. I was literally startled when the intro started and pretty sure I had a mild stroke when the high pitches of the M:I theme music rocketed through my soul.

The film begins with everyone’s favorite character from Lost, Sawyer (Josh Holloway), getting killed by a hot, French assassin (Lea Seydoux). That was unfortunate because I think he would have been an outstanding piece of the team throughout the film. She steals a file with a list of Russian nuclear launch codes with the intention of selling them to Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyquist), aka Cobalt, our evil bad guy who wants to start a nuclear war to cleanse the world so it can start over again. Seriously? He doesn’t want money or power, doesn’t care that he will die too? That’s his motivation – to cleanse the earth? Yikes! I guess the writers are phoning in this one. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is broken out of prison (don’t ask) and leads a mission to infiltrate the Kremlin to retrieve information on Cobalt. In case you are keeping score, the first movie included an agent being killed for a list and Hunt infiltrating a highly guarded government installation as well. Though, at least the first movie had the decency to explain the “impossible” portion of the task. GP simply has agent Dunn (Pegg) exclaim “The Kremlin!?” as if that is explanation enough. Confirmed – just got off the phone with the writers.

The mission goes awry and Tom Wilkinson shows up to explain to Hunt that the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) is being blamed and, consequently, being shut down (labeled as Ghost Protocol – Ta-Da!). Hunt is told that he must stop Cobalt, but will get no help from the government. Hunt’s team becomes himself, Dunn, and agents Carter (Paula Patton) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner). From there, the movie becomes standard action movie and you’re just starting to get your hearing back. Don’t worry – the rest of the film will leave you feeling like you stood next to the speakers at a Metallica concert being held inside a metal shipping container.

Like I said, this movie contained far too many similarities to the first film to be considered unique, or even exceptional. Besides what I’ve already talked about, GP includes an agent hovering over the floor, Tom Cruise climbing stuff, a weapons dealer as a source of information, that same weapons dealer employing that weird German-looking guy with the nasty, stringy hair (Max’s bodyguard in the first film), the techie agent (Dunn) struggling to control elevators, and Ving Rhames (again, don’t ask). The only difference is that they’ve dressed it up with the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai. And while we’re on that note, the one thing everyone’s been talking about is that Tom Cruise did his own stunts. My response is “yeah, and?” The guy gets paid something like $30 million dollars per movie. I would think it would be more of a story if he wasn’t doing his own stunts. Plus, he’s harnessed in, so there’s barely any danger. And, by the way, there is nothing spectacular about hanging off the side of a tall building. Regular people on reality shows have been doing that for years just for the chance to win far less money than Cruise gets paid. So, all of the people praising Cruise (including himself) really need to reevaluate your criteria for giving praise.

What makes this movie stand out, ever so slightly, from its predecessors is that it has a sense of humor. The other films were completely devoid of even the slightest joke and took themselves much too seriously. Pegg adds a much-needed bit of comedy to lighten the mood and help the film take on the aspect of a summer popcorn flick. On the acting front, Holloway and Wilkinson are given no time at all, Patton and Seydoux are there for window dressing (very, very nice window dressing) and one chick fight, and Renner and Pegg steal the show, reminding us that good acting really does have a place in action flicks (not to mention, Renner’s fight scenes will have you drooling for his upcoming role in The Bourne Legacy). When you take all of those things together and forget about the sequels, the movie is actual quite entertaining.

And what about Cruise, you ask? He still thinks he’s an action star, which is why he did his own stunts, but I maintain that he is a very average actor when it comes to action. He spends half the movie running (even trying to outrun a sandstorm at one point), looks like he paid a visit to the same clinic where Kenny Rogers had his face stretched, and appears in more than one scene (and the movie poster) wearing a hoodie. His lines are delivered as if they are a nuisance and only taking screen time from what could be more running. The more you think about it, the more you realize that Cruise and M:I are made for each other. They were both born in the 1960’s and use younger women and technology to make themselves feel younger.

Rating: Ask for three dollars back. It was a passable action flick, but lacked any effort on the writers’ part to make it feel as if the mission was impossible.

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