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Mission Insufferable

Good morning, Mr. Phelps...Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to play second fiddle to Tom Cruise, because he's the star and the producer. And to inflate a pretty entertaining old TV series into a movie monster that cost more to make than all the broadcast episodes put together. And to wear yuppie-stockbroker suspenders.

We advise you in advance to disavow any knowledge of your actions on the set. This movie will self-destruct in five weeks.

Okay, so maybe Brian De Palma's big-screen take on Mission: Impossible isn't the lamest movie ever scavenged from a television show--Maverick and The Flintstones will take some catching. But the now-nostalgic charm of the I.M. Force wrecking the nefarious schemes of assorted tinpot dictatorships using gadgets the good guys got out of Cracker Jack boxes has here been overwhelmed by high-tech paraphernalia and postmodern cynicism. In the name of getting up to date and going all dark and glamorous, De Palma and Cruise have squeezed the fun out of the thing.

In a tight spot, Mr. Undercover Agent? Just open up your zillion-dollar laptop and start surfing the 'net. That's how democracy is preserved in the Nineties.

Let's see. What we have here is an ex-Soviet spy peddling sensitive information, some murky nonsense about a "NOC-list" of agent names, a couple of double-crossers and a beautiful Frenchwoman (Emmanuelle Beart) married to a guy (our Mr. Phelps, as a matter of fact, in the person of Jon Voight) who's about 150 years older than she is. What we have is Cruise, as crack IMF agent Ethan Hunt, gotten up in a black leather jacket and a Rodeo Drive haircut. We have Prague in the fog, London in sunlight and some glimpses of a top-secret CIA office in Langley, Virginia, containing a chair and a computer. What more could you ask for? Well, then. We've got a helicopter tethered to the back of a bullet train rushing through a tunnel and, because this is a Brian De Palma movie, we've got lots of--what to call them? Borrowings? Homages? Thefts? --from other movies, including that man-dangling-on-wires thing from Topkapi, a touch of The Third Man by way of James Bond, and more reheated Hitchcockiana than even De Palma usually gets away with.

We've also got an attitude--courtesy of writers David Koepp, Steven Zaillian and the otherwise estimable Robert Towne--that never dared show its ugly face in the network days of yore. To wit: Not only are there traitors and moles lurking inside the Impossible Mission Force, they actually assassinate their own agents. Call it corny, but good old Peter Graves and Barbara Bain would never have considered that kind of thing. They were too busy bolting together home-made radios a savvy kindergartner would laugh at.

Meanwhile, Cruise's dashing hero is also meant to be a master of disguise from the old school: Sundry geezers and bad guys are forever pulling rubber masks off their faces to reveal...The Cruiser, mountain-sized nose and all. But there's no disguising the man's paint-by-numbers acting style, which got a brief rest only in Rain Man. This here is Cruise's most versatile and engaging performance since... hmmm, maybe Days of Thunder.

Blessed are the reruns. Compared to this overblown piece of business straight out of the Sharper Image catalogue, the vision of Martin Landau tricking up an evil conniver wearing a seven-ruble uniform and a black rubber gun is sheer heaven.--Gallo

Mission: Impossible. Screenplay by David Koepp and Robert Towne. Directed by Brian De Palma. With Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart and Henry Czerny.

 
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