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Tom Swift: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) races ahead of a fireball on his way to save the day in 'M:I-2.'

Tom in Love

John Woo's 'M:I-2' is producer/star Tom Cruise's chance to preen

By Richard von Busack

THE GOOD NEWS about M:I-2 is Thandie Newton. Newton, who was excellent in both the misbegotten Beloved and the mostly unseen Besieged, is given the star treatment by her newest director, John Woo. He films her so much in slow speed that the already extraordinarily graceful actress seems to be gliding. She's the cool center of this would-be cool adventure, and every time she's gone, she's missed. Of course, the story (which is credited to Robert Towne but is the result of many rewrites) treats Newton's character, a jewel thief named Nyah Hall, badly. At one point, she's deliberately abandoned after a gunfight by hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and left in the hands of the villains. It's a scene that neither Towne nor Woo can explain, and Cary Grant himself couldn't make heroic.

In the previous Mission: Impossible film, agent Hunt was part of a team, just as on the old TV show. This time, he works mostly alone with nigh-invisible support (by Ving Rhames, the noble actor once again a mere sidekick). Hunt's mission is to hunt down a biological-warfare virus named Chimera, which is indeed chimerical. It's apparently as communicable as typhoid, but downtown Sydney gets exposed to it, and no one seems to notice. A former IMF (Impossible Mission Force, not International Monetary Fund) agent, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), is trying to peddle this virus to an Australian pharmaceutical company.

Whether the Woo gunfights are better or worse than ever is a matter I'll leave to his more dedicated fans. At this point, I wish that one of those sideways-flying, slow-motioned, two-gun-wielding fighters would actually get hit by a bullet--not fatally, just a flesh wound and I'll be satisfied. The much-vaunted drop sequence down a building's atrium is done with blue screen that looks like the cheapest moments in the Christopher Reeve Superman franchise, and the finale is a fistfight that just won't stop. Because he's a devout Christian, Woo has robbed us of the complicity with the villain that's been the most fun part of action movies since Alfred Hitchcock was in the driver's sear. Ambrose is such a snarling sadist that we never understand what drives him to his fairly clever scheme.

While M:I-2 has the same woes as Face/Off, it also has one of the assets, a strong female lead. I doubt if Joan Allen, the brilliant tragedian who played in Face/Off, added sturdiness and tenderness to that preposterous adventure. Woo has said that MI:2 is a love story between Hunt and Hall, whom he has recruited for the mission. (It's a circumstance familiar to those who've seen Hitchcock's Notorious.) You can see the problem coming: how does Cruise play a love story when his all-consuming passion on screen is for himself? As producer of the film, he was assured of constant close-ups, the gestures that his fans love: the ritual donning of the sunglasses and the silent whinny, that equine toss of his head and clenched-toothed wince that he'll be doing when he's 60. He's far upstaged by Newton, whose willingness to risk death for the love of this self-involved spook stretches the credulity like nothing else in the film.

M:I-2 (PG-13; 126 min.), directed by John Woo, written by Robert Towne, photographed by Jeffrey Kimball and starring Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott and Thandie Newton, opens Friday at the Aptos Cinemas, Santa Cruz Cinema 9, Skyview Drive-In and Green Valley Cinema.

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From the May 25-31, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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