More-is-more style not enough for `M: I-2'

Review: The follow-up to `Mission Impossible' is better, but that's not saying anything.

May 24, 2000|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

The dingus in "M: I-2," an overblown sequel to the snore-inducing "Mission: Impossible," is a virus that threatens to kill millions around the world and the evil-doers who are seeking to extort billions by hawking the antidote.

Forget deadly viruses: What about a cure for people whose faces spontaneously peel off? In predictable fashion, the makers of "M: I-2" have succumbed to the more-is-more school of filmmaking, taking one of the classic bits from the classic television show on which the movie is based and beating it to death.

Director John Woo, who used to make interesting action movies but now seems interested primarily in cashing checks, goes to the face peel-off every chance he gets, reducing it to a ho-hum cliche. Similarly he's taken the motifs he made legendary -- the double-fisted gunplay, the slow motion action sequences, the spiritual references -- and reduced them to empty mannerisms.

"M: I-2" is admittedly better than its predecessor, but that's not saying much. Whereas the earlier movie had an endless stream of computer-screen close-ups and scenes of Tom Cruise typing, Woo's film is more visually compelling. However, it's no more intelligent or any less laughable. Cruise has enlisted some of the heaviest hitters in the business, including Woo and screenwriter Robert Towne ("Chinatown") to help give legitimacy to his franchise, but "M: I-2" is still little more than a live-action cartoon.

In "M: I-2," Cruise's character, Impossible Mission Force operative Ethan Hunt, must track down a group of biotech terrorists who have stolen a petri dish full of fatal germs and are on their way to extort a pharmaceutical executive or kill the world. On the way, Ethan meets and makes whoopee with a gorgeous thief (Thandie Newton), who then becomes sexual bait for the bad guy.

Some of the scenes with Newton recall Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious," but all references to classic cinema -- even Woo's own -- end there. "M: I-2" could be retitled "Thrillers for Dummies": Every move is announced by a thudding sound effect, retina-searing explosion or piece of explanatory dialogue. In a movie meant to appeal to brain stems rather than brains, not just the cat but the mouse is belled for maximum effect.

Even with a laughable shoot-out scene in a drug lab (where even the syringes look like guns) and an absurd motorcycle pas de deux of testicular aggression and alpha-male angst, "M: I-2" would be acceptable summer trash if it looked like Cruise and his co-stars were having any fun. As it is, the movie's only funny line comes when Hunt's cohort (Ving Rhames), looking at a computer screen, says the team's only hope is for Hunt to "kill all the bugs before the yellow dot gets to the red one." While a stunt or action sequence comes every 10 minutes, Woo's self-referential staging looks impossibly fuddy-duddy now that movies such as "Run Lola Run" and "The Matrix" have raised the bar for cyber-era action. Thus "M: I-2" hangs, as if on one of Ethan Hunt's cables, in a limbo between live-action comic strip and adult-oriented thriller. If only somebody would cut the wires before "M: I-3."

`M: I-2'

Starring Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton

Directed by John Woo

Rated PG-13 (intense sequences of violent action and some sensuality)

Released by Paramount Pictures

Running time 126 minutes

Sun score *1/2

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