Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:07 - Released 5/24/00

There is no doubt that Brian De Palma at least tried to pattern his 1996 film Mission: Impossible after the '60s TV spy show from which it took its name. Although the duties of main character switched from Jim Phelps to Ethan Hunt (played by co-producer Tom Cruise), it emphasized many of the show's especially strong points, like the teamwork of several agents using disguises and role-playing to defeat the bad guys. However, it seems that in the case of Mission: Impossible II, director John Woo (Face/Off) and writers Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore, and Robert Towne, aim to copy the style of the James Bond genre more than Bruce Geller's incredibly intelligent TV show. Although Woo resurrects (and ocasionally overuses) some plot traditions of the show, like the self-destructing message and the use of rubber masks to disguise one character as another, M:I-2, as it is known, is mostly explosions and gunfire, sprinkled liberally with some pro wrestling moves that defy description, and, occasionally, gravity. The film's trailers proclaim the addition of Anthony Hopkins as a notable upgrade, but in reality he only occupies about 5 minutes of screen time. The film's final showdown is especially insipid, not to mention interminable. Fans of straight action/adventure may enjoy this film; fans of TV's Mission: Impossible may not recognize it.

While attempting to take a vacation, Ethan (Cruise) is tracked down by his new supervisor, Swanbeck (Hopkins), and invited to accept a new impossible mission: a nasty virus which kills in 20 hours has been developed by some mad scientists at a Sydney, Australia, pharmaceutical firm called Biocyte. A voiceover from one of the scientists explains: "Every search for a hero begins with a monster." You see, the whole point of developing the deadly strain, called "Chimera," after a character from ancient mythology, is to unleash it on the public and then offer the antidote, which they have named "Belerophon," after the character who defeated Chimera. Biocyte's revenues will soar, their stock will increase, and all the mad scientists will become rich, rich, rich. But only after hundreds, or thousands, have died from the disease, which apparently attacks red blood cells.

Swanbeck's request is that Ethan locate a professional thief named Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton, Beloved) and get her to hook up with her old boyfriend, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), who currently has control over the virus. She will then do whatever it takes (ahem) to find out about Chimera and its whereabouts, then Ethan, his old pal Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, the only other cast member returning from M:I-1), and an Aussie named Billy Bard (John Polson), will apprehend the virus, destroy it, and foil Ambrose's evil plans. The trouble is, Ethan kind of has a thing for Nyah, and he doesn't care to see her making it with his nemesis.

This film starts out credibly enough, with a promising concept and the suggestion of the kind of agency teamwork shown in the fascinating opening sequence of M:I-1. But soon it quickly devolves into merely another fireball action flick and another star vehicle for Cruise, who, again, co-produced the film. Although Ethan does count on his partners' assistance to help him out of a few tight spots, their role is reduced to simply that: helpers. Cruise is in almost every scene of the film, shooting, bombing, and fisticuffing his way to his objective, with ever-increasing outrageousness of circumstance. Newton looks good but is seldom called on to do more than that, and Rhames spends all his time in a van, ticking away at computer keys. Scott does his best as Ambrose, but his character is so evil he's less believable, like all those Bond villains (or even Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies). In an effort to capture the action-hungry teen male market, Woo has taken Geller's concept totally over the top, and consequently drained it of the credibility that made the show so engaging. ***

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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