If you pay any attention to movie hype at all, you’ve no doubt seen Tom Cruise going everywhere possible to tell the world that, sure, that was Tom himself hanging from the door of a cargo plane as it took off into the wild blue yonder in “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation.” And yes, according to our boy, he had to hold his breath for six minutes of a scene where the movie tells us he only had to hold it for three.
Apparently, nobody told Cruise he got the job. Mega-stars really don’t have to hang from airplanes taking off. They don’t have to perform prodigious feats of breath control underwater either. That’s what stunt men are hired for. (There are, in fact, enough cuts in the underwater scene as filmed so that none of us out here would have the foggiest idea if he’d only held his breath for 30 seconds.)
Cruise always has had a 1974 sense of how movie superstars should sell themselves to moviegoers. There are a couple of scenes, too, in “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation” where his buddy and Impossible Mission cohort has been kidnapped, where he seems to think he needs to muster up all the acting intensity he sprayed all over the set as Ron Kovic in “Born on the Fourth of July.”
If Cruise and I were buddies, I’d have personally told him “Dude. Relax. All that big time acting isn’t necessary. It’s just a throw-away plot motivation in a summer action movie. The audience doesn’t have to give a fig about your passionate anger, any more than they had to believe that Sean Connery actually thought he was going to die from the blades sticking out of Lotte Lenya’s ugly boots in “From Russia With Love” or that The Rock is actually flying a helicopter in “San Andreas.”
We didn’t show up for “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation” for Oscar-level emoting. A lot of us thought he should have won an Oscar for “Jerry Maguire,” true, but we’re fine when he’s coolly going through the motions. He’s no Steve McQueen, true, but now that he’s 54 years old, his contemptuous unconcern for overly self-righteous villainy actually seems earned in “Rogue Nation.”
I like the boy when he’s minimal and steely and letting others do the heavyweight acting if they want. That’s what guest stars are supposed to do, not franchise regulars.
So here’s the fifth “Mission: Impossible” movie and it’s good fun, no heavy lifting required in the audience. (Not on screen either, except for the stunt guys.) Sometimes it’s even clever. Sure, they’re selling it with all these 1974-style talkes of Cruise doing his own stunts but this movie had me from the opening five minutes – in fact, in the obligatory “your mission if you choose to accept it” scene.
You’ll remember that the movie series adapts the old TV’s show opening scene of the Impossible Mission leader listening to secret tapes of the newest “impossible” mission his gang needs to do for God and country.
But first, of course, there’s a lot of secret code, password stuff he and the tape’s guardian have to go through to establish each other’s bona fides. So in this new “M:I” movie, he wanders into a vinyl record store. No he’s not looking for classical, he tells the saleswoman, he’s looking for jazz. “Coltrane.” “Monk” specifically. With, get this now, Shadow Wilson on drums. And then Cruise, to give his password, gives the woman the story of how Wilson got the name “Shadow.”
At that second, I was on the movie’s side no matter what hooey it eventually threw at me. I also remembered that the movie’s writer/director Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar for writing all that Keyser Soze stuff for “The Usual Suspects.” Here, for no good Hollywood reason whatsoever, was a shoutout for all 24 people in the audience who know that among of the greatest missing links in jazz are more than the 12 extant tracks of Thelonious Monk’s Five Spot quartet with Coltrane and Wilson on drums.
In the movie, it’s just that password stuff that puts Cruise into the booth to hear the “your mission, etc.” tape and see it self-destruct.
It turns out that what Cruise (as Ethan Hunt) and his bunch have to do is destroy a mysterious group who unimaginatively call itself “the syndicate.”
They have to do that despite the fact that a secret congressional oversight committee has defunded the IMF and merged them with the CIA.
So it’s Cruise doing parody Hitchcock suspense scenes at a Vienna Opera production of “Turndot” (the big assassination involves an alto flute and the big note of the aria “Nessun Dorma”). And Cruise doing a spectacular motorcycle chase in Morocco (which begins, natch, in Casablanca).
And then running around London, with his buddies Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames. Alec Baldwin plays the CIA head.
Rebecca Ferguson only gets fourth billing here but she’s actually the movie’s co-star playing a mysterious Brit who keeps showing up at opportune moments to save Cruise’s well-paid and overly publicized bacon.
By all means, if you want, compare this one to other “Mission: Impossible” movies. Not me. You know what you’re getting here, all nicely done and who cares who’s hanging from airplane cargo doors and holding their breath under water? It wasn’t me. It wasn’t you either. That’s all we care about as we watch – and enjoy.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Running time: 131 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for action and violence and brief partial nudity.
The Lowdown: Ethan Hunt fights to save the world and the Impossible Missions Force from the evil grip of a syndicate of presumed dead assassins and spies.