Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mission: Impossible (1996)

I am an unabashed fan of the Mission: Impossible films.  They’re big, loud, sort of dumb (sometimes even more so) and Tom Cruise basically grins his way through each of them but damn it if I don’t find myself enjoying myself every single time as each outing has given us, more or less a different sort of action film.  Taken from the pretty damn great TV series from the 60’s/70’s, the first film used just the character of Jim Phelps (in much the same way a dog uses a fire hydrant) and introduced us to Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, the elite team leader of a younger group of IMF agents.

The summer of 1996 got started with a bang when Brian DePalma’s opening for the series was released.  More or less in line with how the show went (at least the first half hour), it has Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) gathering a team of younger agents, headed by Hunt to make sure a list of undercover operatives doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.  The mission goes quite badly (as in Hunt is the only one left alive apart from Phelps’ wife Claire, played by Emmanuelle Beart) and Hunt ends up on the run from his own agency when he is suspected of being a mole.

 The film is essentially a big, dumb action film done with a little more style.  Brian DePalma does his usual decent directing job with some virtuoso camera moves (and of course the incessant Hitchcock-lite stuff) and the action scenes have a nice sense of geography and pacing.  The best sequence is one where Hunt, Claire and the two disavowed agents they’ve teamed up with (Luther, played by Ving Rhames and Krieger, played by Jean Reno) break into CIA headquarters to get the real list of operatives in order to smoke out the real villain.

It’s a real white knuckler of a sequence as Hunt is dangled from the ceiling over a room with an insanely complex security system.  The other standout sequence comes at the end with Hunt fighting to stay on top of a high speed train while a helicopter tries to slice him to bits.

The action may be just fine but the issue comes with the plot.  As it turns out, Phelps has been the bad guy all along (with Claire and Krieger working for him), a revelation that pissed off many, including members of the original TV show’s cast.  I agree, there is no reason Voight had to be Phelps.
Hell, you could have just had Cruise playing a younger Phelps and have Voight be his mentor and the film would be the same.  Either way it would be a film with Jon Voight where he dies horribly, which I will always approve of.

In addition, the plot doesn’t really hold up to close scrutiny (what summer blockbuster does though?) and at the end of the day, it’s one of those stories that will make you just plain irritated if you try to think about it too much.

That being said, the film does sport a pretty impressive cast.  Cruise is his usual smirky self, Voight is a slimy asshole (and he’s good in the movie too), Ving Rhames and Jean Reno are solid in their roles and Emmanuelle Beart is... Well, she’s pretty.  Honestly, all she has to do is stand around and be attracted to Tom Cruise.  Not exactly something that requires Meryl Streep.

I also get a kick out of Emilio Estevez in an unbilled cameo as one of Hunt’s team members who gets killed.  If enjoying see one of The Brat Pack get his face impaled is wrong, where the hell is the point in being right?

The first film sort of set the template for the rest of the series: big, loud and dumb with the team aspect downplayed for the most part in favor of Tom Cruise doing his own stunts with that sort of intense look he puts on that makes you wonder if his character is tense or if the actor ate something bad during the lunch break.

It fits in fine with the usual summer action fare; oddly enough the plot is somewhat similar to Eraser which was released a few weeks later, but as a recreation of the show... Not so much.  I still dig it, though.  Hell, any movie where Jon Voight is crushed to death by an exploding helicopter can’t be all bad!

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.