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September 29, 2000


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It's the movie that's impossible, not the mission!

Ashok Banker

Ever since Godfather II, we have been spoilt.

Mission: Impossible 2 That landmark sequel proved that sequels can be as good as, if not better than, the original. G II was rewarded with a slew of Oscars, something that had never happened to a sequel before.

After that, every time Hollywood turned out a sequel to a popular film, we actually began to say, "Let's give this one a chance."

And Hollywood actually managed not to disappoint us a lot of the time. Some movies actually went a step beyond their predecessors, which spoilt us even more.

And by the time we came to the Scream generation, we just went out of the theatre, picked up another bag of popcorn and came back inside from the sequel, eager for more.

That is what MI: 2 was counting on. The fact that those of us who saw Mission: Impossible would say, "Hey, this time they've got to have topped the first one. Let's go see how they pulled it off."

Well, guys, I'm here to tell you that sadly, they didn't pull it off. M: I 2 doesn't quite make it to the roster of great sequels. In fact, it makes it to that older, less venerated list -- STSM. That's my shortform for Sequels That Suck Majorly.

A shock? It should be. Because if you're a popcorner like me, you probably expected a roaring good time in the dark with this flick. A couple of hours of great, mindless entertainment. Terrific stunts, music, stylish imagery, and maha-cool Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton captured with director John Woo's usual finesse.

After all, look at the pedigree this dog has. The first Mission: Impossible was a movie version of the 1950s' US television serial of the same name. The series was one of the best examples of the 1950s' spy-versus-spy genre.

Mission: Impossible 2 Clever plots, exotic foreign locales and characters, tricky villains and vamps, mindbending puzzles that had to be solved while a countdown was ticking -- the film took all these ingredients and updated them with 1990s' style and technical finish.

The result was a movie that, while patchy and dragging in parts, was generally a great espionage action-thriller. The plot twists, the betrayal-within-betrayal unfolding of the conspiracy, the cool action set-pieces, the interesting array of characters, the 'impossible' stunts and challenges faced by the hero and his trusty companions, it was all the stuff of instant legend.

Director Brian de Palma, true to his B-movie horror-suspense origins, built up the suspense layer by layer and delivered with a stunning climax that was really 'impossible' to swallow, but still well within the outrageous challenge of the film's title.

Star Tom Cruise got his chance to play Bond, as Arnold did in his spy-flick True Lies, and proved once again that he is the golden boy of Hollywood. His youthful charm and taut physique made him a perfect Ethan Hunt.

Even if you hated him generally -- I have friends who thinks he looks too good to be real, a problem some people had with him in films like Rainman and Interview With The Vampire -- you still had to admit he was made for this role.

And of course, there was that deadly title track that everybody came out of the theatre humming.

Well, after watching M: I 2, they'll still be humming. And hawing. And grumbling. And jawing.

Because M: I 2 takes all that great pedigree and tosses it aside like so much wasted pani after the pani puris are finished.

For starters, the plot. Sorry, what plot? Is there one? Even the characters in the film don't seem to be sure of it. Halfway through the film, they're still arguing about what's really going on, while we the audience are throwing things at the screen and yelling, "Idiots! Idiots!"

The story's so simple, it must have been written by a kindergarten copout: A rogue agent steals a lethal virus and its antidote and tries to sell it to the highest bidder. The hero has to recover the virus before the villain unleashes a worldwide epidemic. He succeeds. End of story.

Mission: Impossible 2 What happened to the MI: 2 premise? The twist-within-a-twist in the kahani? The devious plotting that keeps your head spinning and the story wheels turning? The betrayals and bereavements?

They're all as invisible as the script. Amazingly, this complete no-brainer is credited to Robert Towne, one of Hollywood's greatest.

But Towne's not the only one who turns loser here. Director John Woo, whose HongKong films I watched with relish and reverence years before Hollywood discovered him, turns in the blandest dish he's ever cooked up.

Yes, his trademark style is in evidence here. But not half as effectively as in earlier films like Face Off, Broken Arrow and Hard Target. Despite the mega budget, all you get to see are a few motorbike stunts -- and a few shootouts and punchemups.

He did much better in The Killer, one of his legendary Hong Kong films starring Chow Yun Fat. Check it out and you'll see what I mean. Made 15 years earlier and probably at one-hundredth the budget of M: I 2, it had more style and pizzaz than this sorry non attempt. Woeful, Woo!

In fact, non-attempt is the right word. It's almost as if nobody associated with the film even made an attempt to do more. The plot's so linear, you know how the film will end five minutes after it's begun. That may be acceptable for an action flick, but not for the Mission: Impossible premise.

And then there's the so-called romantic subplot featuring Thandie Newton and Cruise.

She's a jewel thief whom he has to recruit in the mission. In the recruitment process, he beds her and apparently falls in love with her. I say 'apparently' because the only evidence of this 'love' is one 10-second postcoital conversation in bed after their first night together.

Thandie Newton and Tom Cruise Love at first sight? Well, if it is, then at least tell us a bit more, please! Even a Bond film manages to flash more romantic sparks than this lacklustre pairing.

In fact, everything that's wrong with this movie is what a Bond film generally gets right: Detail, backstory, characterization, history. M: I 2 seems to think it's enough to have a good-looking male star, a female showpiece, and to play that cool title track (all right, I admit it, it's cool) every time he steps out for a walk or a stunt.

Even Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins gets a grand total of two short scenes. One in which he briefs Ethan Hunt, the second when he debriefs him. He has a total screen time of probably five or six minutes, and it seems even less.

If you've seen him mouthing those cool lines: "This isn't Mission Difficult, Mr Hunt. It's Mission Impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park for you" then you've seen 90% of his performance. What a comedown from Jon Voight's brilliant double-turncoat role in the first film.

In fact, M: I 2 lacks everything a good series film should have. It doesn't push the same buttons or even try to. It fails to live up to its own hype, and to its basic premise. And all the characters come off as overpaid cardboard cutouts.

In the end, even the cool music and smart hero can't save this dull-as-a-dhoti run-of-the-mill action film. It's the movie that's impossible, not the mission, yaar.

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