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(2000) (Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: A top-secret agent tries to stop a greedy villain from blackmailing the world with a contagious and lethal virus.
Ethan Hunt (TOM CRUISE) is a covert I.M.F. agent who's been assigned by his superior (ANTHONY HOPKINS) to track down a former agent, Sean Ambrose (DOUGRAY SCOTT), who's acquired a dangerous biotech product known as Chimera from Dr. Vladimir Nekhorvich (RADE SHERBEDGIA). The problem is, since the researcher is now dead, no one knows what the product is or does, where Ambrose has it stashed, or what he plans to do with it.

As such, Ethan's boss wants him to assemble a team to find Ambrose, with the condition being that one member of the team must be Nyah Hall (THANDIE NEWTON), an alluring professional thief who once dated Ambrose. This complicates matters for Ethan since he's just slept and thus fallen for the woman.

Nonetheless, he arranges for Nyah to seamlessly fall back into Ambrose's life. With her being equipped with a traceable implant, Ethan, and his two associates, Luther Stickle (VING RHAMES) and Billy Baird (JOHN POLSON), track her movement and discover Ambrose's lair.

From that point on, and as Ambrose deals with a biotech corporate official, John McCloy (BRENDAN GLESSON), about Chimera -- that turns out to be a lethal and contagious virus that kills its victims in twenty hours -- Ethan and his team must find, attain and give the antidote to a person infected with the virus while avoiding Ambrose and his men, including his lieutenant, Hugh Stamp (RICHARD ROXBURGH).

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
One of the more effective but often overused directorial techniques in filmmaking is the use of slow motion footage. Slowing down any given action to emphasize the sheer physicality of it, the use of slow motion can enhance particular moments in any given movie if handled correctly.

Of course, to get that type of footage, one must shoot a great deal of film. Normally, twenty-four frames of film equal one second of screen time. To make any given scene seem as if it's moving slower than normal, however, more frames are shot for every given second, but are then projected at the normal rate, thus creating that slow motion effect.

Not surprisingly, stock film manufacturers, such as Kodak, probably love films with lots of slow motion footage since it requires copious amounts of their product, particularly when that film technique occurs in an action flick where multiple retakes of the stunts are a given.

As such, those companies, along with those who make squibs and other handgun/mayhem special effects products must love legendary Hong Kong filmmaker turned Hollywood director John Woo ("Hard Boiled," "The Killer"). While many of his fellow Asian filmmakers were known for speeding up their martial arts films to make the fighting sequences look more energetic and intense, Woo slowed them down, surprisingly creating the same effect. By doing so, he turned violence into a highly choreographed ballet of mayhem and that has become his signature style.

The people who most love Woo, however, are his hardcore fans who've steadily grown in number following the director's success with his latest American efforts, "Broken Arrow" and "Face/Off." Upon hearing that the filmmaker would be helming "Mission: Impossible 2," such fans - mainly teen and twenty-something males - have generated a building frenzy of anticipation waiting to see what Woo would do with what's become Paramount Picture's latest franchise.

The film certainly has the director's signature style and features enough slow motion battles filled with gunfire, explosions and plenty of diving, spinning and somersaulting characters (who keep shooting and fighting while performing such acrobatic maneuvers) to keep most of those diehard fans satiated. While such scenes are often impressive and choreographed rather well, however, many of those fans may wish that there were more, as one must really wait until the ending to get the full fix.

Those who aren't fans of such stylized action and violence, however, will find that long and drawn out ending -- that keeps going and going as do its characters that should have been severely injured or dead, or at least in dire need of a team of plastic surgeons, after such beatings - as nothing but just that.

For both sets of moviegoers, however, and beyond that ending and a few other key moments, this is far more akin to a mediocre James Bond film than the original TV series (that aired in the late '60s and early '70s starring the likes of Peter Graves, Greg Morris and Leonard Nimoy) from which this film and its predecessor (also starring Cruise but directed by Brian De Palma) are based.

That's because many of this film's elements are straight out of any Bond flick, including the greedy villain who hopes to profit by endangering the world with some diabolical plan, the resourceful and handsome hero who battles him and beds the sexy and alluring beauty, the older superior who assigns the latest case and, of course, the presence of plenty of cool gadgets.

Another problem that hurts this film - at least in comparison to the original series - is that it has one hero and puts most of the emphasis on teamwork on the backburner. As such, one could call this film "Mission: Cruise Too" as it's all about him, even more so than in its cinematic predecessor.

Of course, Mr. Cruise is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, has a large and loyal audience, and produced this film, so it's understandable why he gets so much time on screen. Yet, the fun of watching the original series was the teamwork involved and while there are hints of that here, the script by Robert Towne ("Mission: Impossible," "Chinatown") rarely manages to transcend its Bond similarities. Because of that, the film is often rather boring when the bullets and miles of film (in slow motion) aren't flying by.

There are other problems as well. One involves Cruise's character immediately falling for the alluring beauty played by Thandie Newton due to having just slept with her. The filmmakers throw in that love interest not only to keep the female moviegoers engaged in the plot, but also to create more suspense by forcing the protagonist to protect someone other than just himself. Unfortunately, the sudden romance isn't particularly credible.

While I appreciate the need to get the story going as quickly as possible, it would have made more sense for them to know each other for a while. Then, he could have been surprised by her "hidden" past (her prior relationship with the villain) that he wouldn't have known of, but his superior obviously did. By doing that, he would have been forced to choose how to proceed, thus creating a more credible and engaging dilemma and later complications that would have pulled the audience further into the proceedings and made us worry about them.

Another moment comes off even worse than that. During one of the film's signature moments involving Cruise descending into a highly secure building (that's reminiscent but clearly not as suspenseful as a similar one that occurred in the first film), the villain informs his cohorts (and thus the audience) of every detailed move Ethan Hunt will make, including destroying most of the villain's prized virus.

Why then, aren't the villain and his thugs waiting for Hunt to prevent him from doing just that? After all, if Hunt destroys the virus, the movie is over, and the villains barely get there in time to stop that from occurring. Sure, it makes for some suspenseful moments as it stands, but it's ridiculous and insulting to anyone who thinks about it, and could have been circumvented by any manner of deception (since that's what the film is all about), such as Ambrose replacing the virus with a fake one that Hunt does destroy.

Instead of making a completely credible film, Woo and Towne seem far more interested in staging suspenseful, action scenes. For those looking for such mayhem, the film delivers, but mainly in the last and extremely long sequence that may include lots of cool stunts, martial arts action and other choreographed fighting, but just keeps going on so long that it gets ridiculous after a while (including a moment where the hero and villain charge each other on motorcycles as if they were jousting medieval knights on horseback).

The performances, not surprisingly, are rote for this type of movie. Reprising his role from the first film, Tom Cruise ("Eyes Wide Shut," "Magnolia") delivers a good performance, coming off as more of a rugged and less proper type of Bond character. No matter one's predetermined view of the actor, he does play the character with his usual over the top determination and thespian ferocity to the point that he and the character come off as rather magnetic. Consequently, you can't take your eyes off him, especially when he's performing his own stunts (including the harness-free, rock climbing that reportedly had Woo hiding his eyes during some of the precarious takes).

One can't take their eyes of Thandie Newton ("Beloved," "Besieged"), either, but that's not completely due to her acting prowess. Playing the typical "Bond girl," Newton is quite good and compelling at first, but once the plot mechanisms reduce to her to the typical Bond female in distress, there's not much the actress can do with the part.

The weakest performance part of the film comes from Dougray Scott and the rest of the villains. A hero is only as good as his antagonist, and Scott, best known for playing opposite Drew Barrymore in "Ever After: A Cinderella Story" (he also appeared in "Deep Impact"), simply doesn't have what it takes to pull off the role. As such, his battle scenes with Cruise are never believable and the inevitable final showdown between the two - while impressive for its choreographed stunts - just doesn't work. Richard Roxburgh ("Children of the Revolution," "Oscar and Lucinda") is a bit more intimidating as his right-hand man, but can't transcend the stereotypical trappings of such a role.

In other supporting roles, Anthony Hopkins ("Titus," "The Edge") isn't around long enough to do anything with his "M" type character (Judi Dench being his counterpart in the Bond films), contrary to what some people might think after hearing that he's in the movie or upon seeing him in the beginning). Like Cruise, Ving Rhames ("Bringing out the Dead," "Out of Sight") also reprises his role and does provide for some comic relief, but is otherwise shortchanged in doing much with the character, which is also the case with John Polson ("Sirens," "The Sum of Us") as Hunt's other "partner."

Having received the glorious distinction of being this summer's front runner and/or "it" movie (since the first grossed more than $180 million domestically and $420 million worldwide back in 1996), this one is sure to make equally large sums of money at the box office and it does deliver the goods at times, thus ensuring that it should probably please fans of both Cruise and Woo.

Yet, as a complete film, it's not as great as one would hope and can't help but come off -due to the many glaring similarities - as not much more than a revved up, but nonetheless, mediocre Bond wannabe. Even so, its occasional high-octane output certainly makes it easy enough to watch and somewhat dulls the more glaring problems. While it certainly could have been better, it will probably appease those looking for the typical, big, dumb and loud summer movie experience. As such, "Mission: Impossible 2" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed May 21, 2000 / Posted May 24, 2000

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