Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Tom Cruise Horror Story

The search for last minute additions to 2011's "Worst Of" list continues. Today's contender is the latest in Tom Cruise's popular Mission Impossible films, code-named Ghost Protocol. It's relative easy to write off Tom Cruise these days. Ever since he decided he was going to act all bat-shit crazy, his box office performance went from "sure thing" to "meh" in a heartbeat and although he's still a profitable actor, he's nowhere near the superstar he was a decade ago. Thankfully for his agent, there's still one franchise that is completely under his control, and that's the Mission Impossible series. With both his sexuality and religion constantly under fire, it must be nice to be able to make an escapist film with zero elements of realism and earn a ton of cash doing so. In this latest installment, Cruise upped the ante by bringing in such talented performers as Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Michael Nyqvist, not to mention director Brad Bird in his live action film debut. So will this latest entry have the same draw as the series' earlier titles? I'd be content knowing whether or not it was any good.

Tom Cruise: rugged and loving it
After his IMF unit breaks him out of a Russian prison, super-spy Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is tasked with the mission of breaking into the Kremlin to extract sensitive nuclear launch information before it can be appropriated by a fanatic intent on starting a worldwide nuclear holocaust. When they fail and the Kremlin is bombed in a related attack, Hunt and his team are blamed, forcing the US President to declare "Ghost Protocol" in effect, disavowing the IMF completely. Now this small group must stop terrorist Kurt Hendricks (Nyqvist) from successfully launching a nuclear warhead, and they must do it without backup, support or any allies to fall back on. Win or lose, they must do it on the fly and with whatever materials they can scrounge up, from Moscow to India and home again.

Yes, Simon Pegg is here... I'm not sure why, exactly, but there you are
As in all the previous Mission Impossible titles, you have to keep a very high measure of disbelief in your system throughout most of your viewing. There is so much that happens, and the heroes (especially Cruise) are banged up so much over the course of the film that it's a shock they can still stand through most of it. Adrenaline and sheer willpower can only take you so far, after all. Still, Ghost Protocol does have some truly exciting sequences, and spread throughout the film to boot. There's no one moment that stands out as best from the others, though sufferers of Acrophobia will probably find it impossible to watch Ethan Hunt scale a portion of Dubai's Burj Kalifa without a safety harness. It's a difficult scene to watch even without the ever-present sense of vertigo setting in. Other standouts include Hunt chasing a target through a sandstorm and Agent Brandt (Renner) diving into a tunnel to get "caught" before he can impact with a giant turbine. The special effects are consistent throughout, with only a few moments looking obviously tweaked beyond the realistic. Bird's live-action directorial debut obviously could have benefited with a step further from the animation that he's used to working with, but to be honest the difference would have been negligible at best.

I'm guessing they can't hear him now. Good.
The acting, like the SFX, is if nothing else consistent. This is the type of film where most actors can get by on their charm, and for most of the people here, that is true. It's certainly the case for Cruise, who (ahem) cruises through everything that happens with a cool face of detachment, except for the few moments in the script that call for mild frustration. Despite his relative career downturn, Cruise hasn't needed to act in almost a decade, and when all he apparently does these days is action films, that's understandable. Less understandable is when a talented performer such as Paula Patton falls in that trap, an actress who has nowhere near the career cachet to justify oozing with charm without bringing more to the table. There's plenty of opportunity for her character to grow, but sadly that never really seems to happen. Simon Pegg is the comedic sidekick and he knows it, but apparently the script didn't, and Pegg does more than you might expect, though it was nice to see him bring a levity among the critically serious characters around him. Veteran actors Tom Wilkinson and Anil Kapoor also do little, with Wilkinson playing his small role as dry as the Sahara, and Kapoor doing just the opposite, playing up on the charm he exuded in 2008's Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire.

The best deterrent against catcalls
But there are still a few actors who defy the shallowness of their roles. It's a shame to see that this year Michael Nyqvist has followed up arguably his most successful heroic role (that of Mikael Blomkvist in the Swedish adaptation of the Millennium series) with two cliched villain parts, first in the stinker Abduction and now this. He's a far more talented actor than he's being given a chance to be in Hollywood, and I wonder how long the good will is to last for him on the big screen in the good ol' USA. Still, he does do menacing well, and his final battle with Ethan Hunt at the film's finale is nothing if not believable. Lea Seydoux also stands out as a French assassin for hire, though she only appears in a few scenes of note. Finally, Jeremy Renner plays the only member of the four-person IMF team given real character development, and he is the only one who actually acts his way through the entirety of the movie. Renner is quickly becoming a true superstar, and I'm happy to see him rise to such heights from the relative success of 2009's The Hurt Locker.

Don't look down don't look down don't look down...
Between the action, special effects, and a liberal dose of humor that doesn't overpower the seriousness of the situations presented in the film, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol does a better than average job of entertaining its audience. It's not a very good movie overall, but nobody expects that of franchise action films these days, and this entry is no different from any similar release. That's it's biggest drawback, of course; you could have literally stayed home and rented any other action film (or an earlier Mission Impossible) and gotten exactly the same amount of fun from that than you would from Ghost Protocol. Still, it's nowhere near as poor as you can imagine, and should ensure more entries to the Mission Impossible series before too long. After all, Tom Cruise has to make money SOMEHOW.


Anonymous said...

Why would I imagine this is "poor"? It looks fantastic. And I guess I'm one of the few (many?) that still thinks Tom Cruise is a legitimate movie star.


Mr. Anderson said...

Besides the Dubai skyscraper scene and Renner added to the cast, what part of this film looks "fantastic"? Tom Cruise might still be a moneymaker, but when you compare his box office prowess to a mere decade ago, it's obvious he's on a downward slope in his acting career.

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie yesterday. I think it's the best action movie of the year. Possibly of the last five years. For the record, I love Tom Cruise. Ok, didn't see that movie he made with Cameron Diaz because it looked terrible. I don't give a shit about box office prowess.