Forget (and it’s not difficult) Brian DePalma’s frantic, confused Mission: Impossible, the first movie based on the 1960s television series about a crack team of superspies. All that remains in John Woo’s supercharged Mission: Impossible II is star-producer Tom Cruise, the always marvelous Ving Rhames, impossibly elaborate gadgetry and screenwriter Robert Towne, who has streamlined the globetrotting antics of the agents into a comprehensible (if still immensely fanciful) storyline.
Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is interrupted while on vacation (his relaxing pursuit involves scaling a massive Utah rock face with no climbing gear) by a missive from his boss (Anthony Hopkins in a cameo). It seems that a fellow agent, Sean Ambrose (a dastardly Dougray Scott), has gone AWOL, stolen a lethal manmade virus called chimera (along with its immensely profitable antidote) and killed the passengers of a commercial jet in the process.
Hunt is assigned the task of recruiting a professional thief, Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton), to help steal chimera back. After foreplay which involves a jewel heist and a near-fatal car crash, the duo bond romantically. Then Ethan learns that Nyah happens to be Sean’s old flame and is supposed to serve as their inside man by utilizing her womanly wiles. (An otherwise fun script is weakened by misogynist wisecracks.)
Their central love triangle, which immensely humanizes this high-tech action film, comes courtesy of that master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Screenwriter Towne (Chinatown) freely cribs from Notorious, with a few side glances at North By Northwest. (As Sean’s henchman, Richard Roxburgh ends up with the Martin Landau repressed-longing role.)
The American films of John Woo, that master of Hong Kong action cinema, have heretofore been mixed blessings. But in M:I-2, he’s finally come into his own. The action sequences are truly breathtaking, and Woo’s attention to detail pays off in a film where computer keystrokes are as vital as huge explosions.
Mission: Impossible II is full of the visual inventiveness and exuberant energy missing from last year’s The World is Not Enough. With Woo at the helm, M:I-2 manages to out-Bond Bond.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.