Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Samuli Edelmann, Ivan Shvedoff, Anil Kapoor, Léa Seydoux, Josh Holloway, Miraj Grbic, Ilia Volok
Written by: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, based on the TV series created by Bruce Geller
Directed by: Brad Bird
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence
Running Time: 133
Date: 12/06/2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Perfect 'Ghost'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Tom Cruise has had a tough time of it lately. He was once, and for a good long while, one of the top movie stars in the world. Then he started behaving strangely, a bit too often, in public, and he seemed to have lost his clout. And yet, in truth, he has only been demoted to the status of a "normal" movie star. Of his last six films, three of them made over $100 million, and two more came fairly close. On Rotten Tomatoes, four of those same six films have "fresh" ratings. The next step is a movie for former Cruise fans to really love. And I think that Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol might be it.

The previous movie, Mission: Impossible III, directed by J.J. Abrams, was my least favorite of the series. It seemed to forsake all the playful fun in the name of "bigger-faster-louder." Abrams used shaky-cam and his all-peaks-and-no-valleys pacing and came up with an exhausting, forgettable entry. Now animator Brad Bird -- making his live-action debut -- takes over and the result is solid. Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) is a great storyteller, with a good grasp of pace, and a crisp, bright tone, and the new movie benefits from his guidance (Abrams remains on as a producer).

In his fourth time out as Ethan Hunt, Cruise takes a serious beating -- he is given two painful-sounding conks to the noggin -- and he appears somewhat humbled. Perhaps his injuries (both physical and invisible) will endear him to viewers a bit more. What's more, Bird and screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec (both from Abrams' TV team), make Ethan Hunt part of an ensemble. His new teammates, Jane (Paula Patton), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Brandt (Jeremy Renner), get nearly an equal amount of screen time, though Cruise does get three big visual effects showstoppers.

The action begins as Jane and Benji are assigned to break Ethan (Cruise) out of a Russian prison. He brings an informant with him, and the escape is a success, more or less. Not out five minutes, Ethan receives an assignment to break into the Kremlin and steal certain records. Unfortunately, he is too late, and the mission is compromised; the bad guy has made it look as if Ethan and his team have blown up the Kremlin, reviving the old Russia-vs.-U.S. nuclear standoff.

Because of the trouble, Ethan and his team are now forced to operate off-grid (i.e. "ghost protocol"), and Brandt joins them. They try to nab the bad guy during a transaction for the missile codes and fail, and therefore they must come up with one last-ditch attempt to stop the bad guys from destroying the world. And it involves getting all dressed up for a fancy party!

The plot is, of course, a bit ludicrous, and the bad guys here are pretty much faceless and without personality, but we don't come to Mission: Impossible movies to learn about the bad guys and what they want; all we care about is that the good guys have to stop them by doing insanely complicated things. For example, while visiting the tallest building in the world, in Dubai, it becomes necessary for Ethan to break into the computer room from the outside. So he must scale the towering glass facade, the wind whipping in his ears, and his specialized gloves not working properly.

Another chase occurs on one of those high-tech, high-rise parking garages with ever-shifting elevators and a terrible drop to the steel floor, several stories below. But of course other stunning sequences involve simply holding still, hoping for a miracle, and trying not to sweat too much. In short, this movie is nicely balanced fun, and it offers a wonderful reprieve from some of the dreary and overcooked awards season turkeys.

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