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With: Tom Cruise, Emmanuelle Beart, Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave, Henry Czerny, Ving Rhames, Jean Reno, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Emilio Estevez
Written by: David Koepp, Robert Towne, based on a story by David Koepp, Steven Zaillian, and on the TV series created by Bruce Geller
Directed by: Brian De Palma
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense action violence
Running Time: 110
Date: 05/22/1996

Mission: Impossible (1996)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Short Fuse

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When I was about 4 or 5, I remember my dad religiously watching two television shows. One was "Star Trek" and the other was "Mission: Impossible." I liked to watch "Star Trek" with my dad, but my young brain was a little baffled by "Mission: Impossible." I do, however, remember the fuse lighting, and the theme music and the "this tape will self destruct in 5 seconds."

Which is good, because Brian De Palma's new movie version starts out with those few elements, then forgets everything else and turns right into a 1990s Hollywood movie. So I haven't missed anything. This isn't like trying to watch The Brady Bunch Movie without ever having seen the TV show. They wanted to make sure people who were too young to remember the TV show would buy a ticket.

The movie (co-written by Robert Towne) is convoluted and complicated, which is exciting at first and makes you think of Chinatown, but then you realize that Towne and all the other writers probably didn't have the slightest idea where the movie was going. It's as if they were desperately flailing around, trying to find the next twist or turn. Rather than confidently leading you through a maze, the movie awkwardly pushes you. But all this is okay, because each scene in and of itself plays very interestingly, even if they don't always logically lead one into the next scene.

Director Brian De Palma is one of the best and unluckiest directors around. He is generally responsible for controversial and financially unsuccessful movies. His last four movies were bombs, both critical and financial. Before that was The Untouchables, a big hit, also based on a television show. The Untouchables represented a dumbing down in style for the director, because he was trying to get some credibility back. He had to show the establishment that he could still make a hit movie. The same goes for Mission: Impossible, The exciting thing is that now he has another hit under his belt, he can go on to direct some cool little pet project that will get everyone all upset.

However, the fact is that Brian De Palma is perfect for directing some of these high tech summer action pictures. He has a great visual style and a good rhythm for suspense. Even with all the stars and special effects and astronomical budgets, he manages to stick some signature shots in. There is a beautiful scene in which Tom Cruise blows up a restaurant made up of glass and fish tanks. Another great scene occurs when he and his partners (Ving Rhames and Jean Reno) break into the CIA headquarters to steal information out of their main computer. Still another great scene is a fight on top of a high speed bullet train.

Comparing this film to bland summer action movies like The Rock, Independence Day and Chain Reaction, is like 8-track and vinyl.

Mission: Impossible has a cool cast, but no one will win any Oscars for their performances. Emanuelle Beart, one of the world's most beautiful women, has a few good scenes, but, mostly, she seems to be there as the "Somebody's Girlfriend" character. (Beart can be seen to full advantage, if you know what I mean, in the excellent La Belle Noiseuse.) Jon Voight, a very good actor (when he's not mumbling) doesn't seem to be in possession of an entire script. Neither of these performers seems to be on screen long enough to develop into strong characters. But they are great to watch, no matter what. Cruise, however, seems to have regressed after a couple of good performances in The Color of Money and Born on the Fourth of July. He has now gone back to the attention-starved-puppy performance style of the horrible Top Gun.

Oh well. No matter what I found wrong in this movie, I also found an excuse for it. I had a darned good time at Mission: Impossible. It may have tried to pander to my demographic group, but it didn't insult my intelligence. It's De Palma's best work since the guilty-pleasure Raising Cain or maybe even Scarface.

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