Mission: Impossible II


Mission: Impossible II

Tom Cruise knows how to define cool instead of being defined by it.

(2000) Action (Paramount) Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Anthony Hopkins, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, Rade Serbedzija, William Mapother, Dominic Purcell, Matthew Wilkinson, Alison Araya. Directed by John Woo

 

It sounds like an unbeatable combo: Tom Cruise, whose revival of the revered television franchise was a big hit; terrific gadgets; and John Woo, who with apologies to Jan de Bont, Michael Bay and John McTiernan, is the best action director on the planet. Should you decide to accept it? Heck, yeah!

The plot is a bit of a lulu. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, who is evidently back in the IMF after the recent unpleasantness is called upon to recruit Nyah (Newton), a beautiful thief to go after Chimera,a creation of an ex-Soviet molecular biologist which has been ripped off by a renegade IMF agent (Scott) who, as it happens, has a previous relationship with the thief and a grudge against Hunt.

Sounds simple enough but let’s face it, this isn’t Mission Simple it’s Mission Impossible right?. Ambrose, the renegade agent, is at least nearly as competent as Hunt and he has no compunction about using deadly force as does Hunt in this iteration. Nyah is the wild card whose allegiance is clearly to herself and whose motivations are murky at best.

Few directors are able to capture the poetry of movement as well as Woo, and the action scenes reflect that aesthetic. Woo stages some incredible action scenes, beginning with a mountain-climbing scene and building to a climactic motorcycle chase and fight. They are marvelously staged and worth every penny that you paid to rent or buy whichever version of it you have in your grubby little hands.

Now, the down side. Much less energy is put into the non-action scenes, and therefore some of the expository scenes drag. Hunt falls in love with the thief too quickly and for no apparent reason other than to make a plot complication the audience could do without. The writers also rely too much on the hoary plot device of disguising the actors as other actors. It seems like every ten minutes, someone is pulling off latex to reveal Hunt’s face or Ambrose’s face. Yes, we get that not everything is as it seems, guys. This is just pure laziness on the writers’ part, a device meant to move the plot along without really putting too much thought into it.

Cruise is surrounded by a capable cast, which is a good thing because he spends most of the movie trying to be emotionless (which translates onscreen as “wooden”). Scott makes a first-rate villain and for my money at the time seemed poised for stardom which to this point has never arrived. Newton is lustrous as the bad girl gone good (more or less) but does little more than point smoldering looks in Cruise’s general direction. Rhames returns from the first movie, but outside of one scene is given little to do beyond monitoring the computer and warning Hunt to be careful. Hopkins has a cameo as the acerbic head of the IMF; we could have done with more of him and less of the latex.

Still, given all the faults of the movie, it’s still a satisfying summer action thriller, full of great stunts, terrific gadgets and things that go boom. Even if you’re at home on a cold winter’s night, there’s nothing better than a big summer movie to take your mind off of things for two hours. This isn’t the best movie in the franchise and it’s a bit disappointing that Woo couldn’t make a better film, but the action sequences alone are worth checking this bad boy out.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific action sequences. Hopkins is a treasure and Scott not a bad villain at all.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cruise surprisingly wooden here. Too much latex. Newton not the ideal leading lady.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a little bit of sexuality and a whole lot of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This was the first movie Metallica ever agreed to write a song for.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a music video of the aforementioned Metallica song, a couple of tributes to Cruise which seem oddly out of place here and an interesting look at the stunts with the film’s stunt co-ordinator.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $546.4M on a $125M prodution budget; the movie was a big hit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Quantum of Solace

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Big Year

Big Momma’s House


Big Momma's House

This sight will give a kid nightmares for years to come.

(2000) Urban Crime Comedy (20th Century Fox) Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, Jascha Washington, Terrence Dashon Howard, Anthony Anderson, Ella Mitchell, Carl Wright, Phyllis Applegate, Starletta DuPois. Directed by Raja Gosnell

One thing about Hollywood. If you like a concept, just wait around awhile. It will show up in some other movie, only with a different title.

I’m pretty fond of Martin Lawrence. He’s turning into a terrific comic actor, with impressive performances in Nothing to Lose and Bad Boys (among others) under his belt. Here, he plays Malcolm, a gung-ho FBI agent who’s watched Mission: Impossible perhaps a wee bit too often. He’s known for his latex disguises and kung fu moves, which qualifies him as a cross between Ethan Hunt, Jackie Chan and Jimmy “J.J.” Walker, the last for his smoooooooooth style with the ladies.

He’s working on a case in which a vicious bank robber (Howard) has escaped from prison (where he was doing time for murdering the bank guard in cold blood) and is going after his ex-girlfriend Sherie (Long), who worked at the bank he robbed. She’s thought to have been involved with the robbery, although nothing was ever proved. Since the money was never recovered, she is being watched as the cops think that her erstwhile beau will be paying her a visit to recover the loot.

She, of course, takes it immediately on the lam, so Malcolm and his partner John (Giamatti) stake out her estranged grandmother’s house in Georgia. The two were once close, but have since grown apart. When Big Momma (Ella Mitchell) is called out of town suddenly, Malcolm assumes her identity when her granddaughter phones to say she’s coming for a visit. Malcolm hopes she’ll confide in her grandmother, but instead winds up falling for the gal, as well as for her cute-as-a-button son Trent (Washington). Of course, we know that eventually the ex is going to make an appearance and Big Momma is gonna have to save the day.

Think Mrs. Doubtfire meets Kindergarten Cop, southern fried. There are some comic possibilities in the concept but unfortunately the execution here doesn’t work. For starters, the script is not terribly well-written, and Da Queen and I were predicting – accurately, I might add – what each next plot point would be well before it actually happened. There are no surprises  and the humor could charitably described as meant for unsophisticated minds. For a comedy, it rarely brings a smile, much less a chuckle. That’s inexcusable because Lawrence is one of the funniest comic minds working today.

Just putting a male actor in drag isn’t funny in and of itself. In Mrs. Doubtfire Robin Williams used it as a springboard to examine attitudes towards women and the aged, but then, he had a better script to work with. Lawrence is talented, but even he can’t overcome a cliche-ridden script that was as tired as a narcoleptic at an Al Gore lecture. While he has some nice byplay with Giamatti (who was at the time not terribly well-known in Hollywood) and Long is an attractive and competent actress, the sparks really fail to generate and most of the time these talented actors are just wasting their time – and ours.

If you’re going to make a comedy with Lawrence, give the man room to work his magic. Stuffing him in a fat suit and a dress is a gimmick but even that they don’t use effectively. The exception is a scene in which Lawrence as Big Momma schools some playground kids in the art of roundball. See, that’s funny.

Big Momma’s House made big box office, which is certain proof of impending apocalypse. Watching this is cinematic deja vu; you’ll get the feeling you’ve seen this one before. Unfortunately, it’ll be deja vu in a dentist’s chair … as the drill begins to whirr.

WHY RENT THIS: Martin Lawrence is one of the better comedians in Hollywood. Long is easy on the eyes.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A script that’s as predictable as a Tea Party newsletter. Some fair talents are wasted and Lawrence’s considerable skills are largely unused.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a decent amount of foul language as well as some cruel, sexually-based humor. There’s also a smattering of violence, mostly of a comic variety.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The name Big Momma came from screenwriter Darryl Quarles’ childhood; that was the name the neighborhood kids used to call his own mother.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are a couple of music videos, a make-up test for Big Momma (during which Lawrence improvises some stuff that’s funnier than what’s in the movie) and an animated opening that was scrapped.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $174.0M on a $30M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: The Help