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Mission: Impossible

Starring Tom Cruise
Emmanuelle Beart, Ving Rhames, and Jon Voight
Directed by Brian De Palma


Cranky usually does not make comparisons to the source material. But they're my rules and I can change 'em anytime I'd like to. This is the time.

If you were a fan of the television series starring Peter Graves and, at various times, Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Leonard Nimoy and Cranky's college classmate Jane Badler, don't read the paragraph marked SPOILER. I don't tell who did it, but you'll figure it out. And since you're going to see this thing regardless of what I say, I don't want to ruin it. That being said, the writers of this 1990s version of Mission: Impossible should burn in Hell. Let's proceed.

The Impossible Mission Force is a black-book CIA operation, unknown to all but a handful of the most powerful people in (or outside of) Government. In fact, it is strongly hinted that the President himself is unaware of the decisions of the IM Secretary and the actions of the IMF. Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) leads a team that uses high-tech computer skills as well as sleight of hand, drugs and whatever else is necessary to keep the Free World free. Their mission is to capture a traitor who has stolen a list of undercover agents in the Eastern Bloc.

SPOILER --- click and drag over the space --- SPOILER
As revealed in the film's trailer, in the course of that mission the team is betrayed. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Mrs. Jim Phelps (Emmanuelle Beart) survive the ambush. They must piece together a new IM team, uncover the traitor and avenge their honor and that of their fallen comrades. The resolution of the story, in which the dead come back to life, and the traitor is revealed as the former heart and soul of the team, and his wife, is about as unsatisfying as you could possibly imagine. It is a base betrayal of what made MI work and not a single person I spoke with after seeing MI agreed with it. Not one.

You cannot have star a team in a work that is a star vehicle. The original premise behind Mission: Impossible requires a team. Tom Cruise is a star. It's like oil and water. Very little in this mishmash called a movie works as high-tension drama. The audience should not be laughing at the serious happenings on the screen. But they did. Heartily.

You can have all the high-tech gags and latex masks you want, but if you don't have the elements of trickery and surprise, there is no mystery. MI is all high-tech gags and latex. The "real" team functions less as a unit than the "new" team. The writers IMO display no understanding as to what makes, or made, MI work. It is no surprise that none of the original actors, when approached to participate in the movie, accepted the offer.

With the exception of perhaps four or five minutes of genuine-seat gripping action at the climax of the thing, MI is all disconnected segments and oodles of discombobulated plot devices. The original team is on screen for so little time that there is no way for the audience to identify with them, or feel pity when they snuff it. The new team works seamlessly. The glitches in their operation are comic, not suspenseful. Throughout, mystery men and women materialize and dematerialize just as mystifyingly as the high-tech equipment that makes its way into Cruise's hands. The settings change at a mind-boggling pace. Russia. Prague. Virginia. London. It's like a Bond movie except that the characters have to spend a good amount of time explaining what it is you have seen on screen. And very little of it makes sense.

What (very) little story is here should not have to be explained. But it did. The classic MI tales DID confuse the heck out of you until the endgame. Then the machinations became crystal clear, and the SURPRISE was the thrill. There are very few surprises in this Mission: Impossible.

Oops, I broke my non-comparison rule. I guess my expectations were just too darned high.

With the exception of what was revealed in the spoiler paragraph, the audience members I spoke with were split 50-50 on how MI worked as entertainment. Those that entered the theater with no expectations whatsoever enjoyed it. To some extent, they were confused by comic elements written into the script. The hard-core fans were greatly disappointed.

As for Cranky, I figured it out almost from the top. The mystery is second rate. The clues are alternately too easy and indecipherable. The endgame would have been terrifically satisfying if the first hour or so had made me give a darn about the plight of Ethan Hunt. But it didn't. And Cranky laughed.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Mission: Impossible, he would have paid . . .

$2.00

If I had stuck to my "don't compare to source material" rule I would have paid $4.50.

As ludicrous as it may sound, the movie climaxes with a helicopter chase inside the English Channel. That sequence is compelling, edge-of-you-seat terrific, and it made my little heart go thumpa-thumpa-thumpa. It's too bad the rest of the movie wasn't as gripping.

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