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for about twenty minutes into mission impossible 2 director john woo ( the killer , hard boiled , face off ) appears to have made an exciting , elegant , charming spy thriller , kind of a post millennium james bond adventure with a strapping american ( read : unsophisticated ) hero more willing to drop kick villains than out fox them .
sadly , as the picture progresses , the final product begins to bear a closer resemblance to a souped up , two-hour long episode of magyuver .
and not a particularly good one at that .
what went wrong ?
mi2 begins flashily enough , that initial flash leading us to believe that it'll soon give way to something of a plot , but it only gives way to more flash , then digresses further into a presumably unintentional parody of itself with much slo mo posturing and countless action set pieces wherein bad guys seem to deliberately leap into the way of tom cruise's firing gun just so they can die really cool .
early on , during a car chase between soon to be lovers ethan hunt ( tom cruise ) and nyah nordoff-hall ( thandie newton ) , woo works some of his trademark magic .
in one hypnotic , though completely inexplicable sequence , the director slows the action down to a languid semi-stall as cruise and his stunning opponent stare into one and other's eyes with come hither sexuality ? ? ? just as their respective cars smash and spin in accordance , coming ever so close to toppling over a neighboring cliff .
prior to this we see the famed trailer opener of cruise climbing a steep mountain , sans scaffolding , then leaping from one jagged rock formation to another .
why ?
i haven't the foggiest .
i doubt even john woo could provide you with a logical reply .
with mi2 woo has become a slave to the summer movie machine , the one that jettisons logic for gravity defying effects and story for more gravity defying effects .
it's possible that these " spies " could be adrenaline junkies climbing mountains and crashing into each other as means to get off , though of course this is never explored .
the scenes i've described are really only included to titillate , not to give any insight into character .
god forbid .
woo certainly knows how to make each set piece energetic , but they remain individual set pieces never connecting to form anything more than splices of beer commercial-like visuals .
still in terms of crackerjack eye candy , the opening has much to cherish .
cruise and newton first meet during a vigorous flamenco dance featuring several welcome woo devices ( the graceful slow mo artistry of synchronized movement juxtaposed against the stage 1 romance of two attractive individuals discovering how attractive the other is ) .
between the frantic dancing , woo trains his camera on cruise and newton as they make with some sensuous eye contact .
the scene is a little over the top in a bon jovi music video circa 1988 kind of way , yet it has style and something of soul , and woo casts a bit of a spell on us .
sure it's all smoke and mirrors , but we can see that there happens to be a talented maestro behind this particular product .
thandie and cruise later meet in a bathtub in a scene that's about half as playfully charming as the jennifer lopez \ george cloony trunk meeting in out of sight .
they flirt and exchange obvious double entendres .
newton bats her eyes flirtatiously .
cruise grins a little too slyly .
the cruise character , ethan hunt , has been drastically altered since the first film .
here cruise plays him more as a hip , sexual dynamo than the square jawed robot he impersonated in part 1 .
he's cool and dashing , which is precisely the kind of role we want to see cruise in after watching him sleep walk through eyes wide shut ( which might just be the longest episode of red show diaries ever committed to film ) , and blustered his way through magnolia ( quite possibly the most overrated performance of the 90's ) .
sadly as the film progresses we see less of cruise's initial " i'm the man ! "
charm and more slo-mo close-ups of his preening mug .
mi2 falls apart on nearly every level during its repetitious third act , which is essentially one hour long action sequence that just won't stop .
the whole thing commences with an utterly generic gun battle ( the first gun fight in the film ) , which really should be unheard of in a john woo film , but alas this particular battle could've been staged by anyone from renny harlin to joseph merhi ( of course excepting the " symbolic " pigeons who seem to find their way into every john woo picture ) .
we've all seen guys slide across the floor in slo mo while firing a gun in each hand .
it isn't done any differently here .
the action is pure hard target \ broken arrow theatrics with nothing to propel it but the apparent need to see tom cruise drop kick face less villains while his hair whips stylishly in the wind .
he's cool for sure but he's made to be as empty as the movie .
the actor isn't used so much for his boyish appeal as for his chiseled looks ; he smiles narcissistically into the camera at literally any moment , be it during a gunfight , before one or after one .
when he's not beaming away , he's staring into the lens with cold eyes trying to look mad as hell , but woo's editing seriously undermines the effort .
he fetishizes cruise's angular face with such glee that it turns into a naked gun style spoof .
i half expected cruise to peel off his facemask and reveal that he's really austin powers .
in a classic woo action moment , ethan hunt struts past a fiery doorway glaring at the baddies within its frame like a pin-up boy angel of death .
the gunfight turns into a daring escape which turns into a reckless mission which turns into a motorcycle attack in which bad guys seem to angle directly for cruise to kill them like some kind of mass suicide ritual ( one dumb bastard even jumps his bike over the gun toting cruise , basically inviting our handsome hero to shoot him in mid air which he does ) .
the lead bad guy ( played by the appropriately british dougray scott ) and cruise face off in a mentally deficient game of chicken ? ? ? on motorcycles .
though instead of jumping off to the side at the last moment , the two grown men leap directly into the other giving each other a mid air bear hug , only to fly about a hundred feet ( still in bear hug position ) , land on a beach below and begin a mano-e-mano fist fight that ends with the bad guy pulling a " so you thought i was dead . . . " .
not to worry , cruise takes care of the problem without even breaking a sweat .
what a hero !
you may have noticed that i opted not to describe an iota of mi2's plot .
my reasoning is simple : i'm not sure of any good it would do .
the film itself has absolutely no concern with story , only with hurtling forth to the next " special " effect .
i wasn't kidding when i told a friend of mine that mi2 has less plot than the average aerosmith video .
nobody will go to this for the plot , and if they do they'll surely regret it .
as summer movies evolve ( or devolve ) character and plot have become increasingly whittled down to nearly nothing .
in mi , the plot seemed to be built around brian de palma's ( that film's director ) stylistic flourishes , while in mi2 the plot only serves to give us an intermittent breather from woo's non-stop masturbatory pandemonium .
it's irrelevant in every sense , as is character .
all that ultimately matters are those pesky smoke and mirrors .