Mission: Impossible II

Or, Tom Cruise plays James Bond. The only major difference between the original Mission: Impossible TV series and the James Bond movies was that the IMF – Impossible Mission Force – was a team of spies, while Bond was a lone wolf. Not this time. Though assisted by the first film's only other returnee, Ving Rhames, Tom Terrific is basically playing it solo here. Add gadgets, guns, a madman threatening to kill everybody, and a babe, and you have Paramount's yuppie version of MGM's golden franchise: Cruise. Tom Cruise.

Sent by his employer (Anthony Hopkins in an enjoyable cameo) to Australia to track down some mystery virus and its antidote, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) hooks up with master thief Nyah (Thandie Newton) in order to doublecross her ex-boyfriend Ambrose (Dougray Scott), a rogue IMF agent who is behind a devious plan to control both virus and antidote.

Strangely, Hopkins admits early on that he had sent Ambrose himself in on this assignment first, as Hunt was on vacation. Ambrose being such a dastardly character, it's a bit hard to swallow that the IMF would have ever trusted him to this, and that nobody minds when he winds up killing hundreds of innocent people in the process of nabbing information on the virus. Is the IMF that full of rogue agents?

Well, if you can get that bad taste out of your mouth, you can enjoy lots of slow-motion shots, a story that veers from muddled to simplistic, Robert Towne's goofy dialogue, and director John Woo at odds with his star, his crew, and himself.

Fans (like me) of Woo's classic Hong Kong films will find plenty of great stunts to chew on, as well as doses of his signature melodrama. Otherwise, the rest of the film could be anybody's: Woo seems to say "I give up" in most of the non-action scenes. Big problems during the film's production have now become the stuff of legend, and the disorder shows: the first half of the film is weirdly paced, even rushed. There is no character development to justify Hunt's apparent love for Nyah (whose "master thief" abilities are almost entirely ignored after her first scene). But stuff blows up, Cruise shoots people, and popcorn is sold.