Mission: Impossible (1996) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence
Running time: 110 min.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Dale Dye, Emilio Estevez
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: David Koepp, Robert Towne (based on the television series created by Bruce Geller)
Review published December 12, 2007

Although the theme song, self-destruct message, and spy capers are certainly derived from the television show, those who've watched the long-running series regularly in the 1960s or in reruns should note that this big screen version bears little other resemblance to the small screen predecessor.  One carry over comes from the name of the IMF team head being Jim Phelps (Voight, Heat), but he's mostly out of the way from the get-go, as we follow his direct subordinate, Ethan Hunt (Cruise, The Firm), for the remainder of the adventure.  Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, Wise Guys) finds his virtuoso style meshes well with the action genre, especially when he has a good script to work with (i.e. one he didn't write himself).  It's one of the rare action flicks of the 1990s where you actually are rewarded if you pay attention to the conversations, as its serpentine plot lends better to the espionage side of things before it finally comes out full bore as an over-the-top action flick in the preposterous (but exciting) finale.

In the film, Hunt is pinned as a mole by his superiors in an internal operation that sees his team all but wiped out and leaving him to pick up the pieces to restore his good name.  With the help of a couple of outsiders, Hunt finds that the key to the whole shebang lies in the acquisition of the NOC list, a master list of covert spies, contained in high-security computer files.

Other than De Palma's deft handling of the spy side of the story (his handling of fast-paced action is still a bit herky-jerky), Cruise gives a commanding performance, both professional and intense at the same time.  Although there is little in the way of character background given, we realize that he's on the job and quite serious.  We take his side because he's on the side of doing what's right, not knowing who to trust in this paranoid edge-of-your-seater that delivers enough action, intrigue, thrills, and even a flirtation with romance that should please the spy flick lovers and the popcorn movie junkies in equal measure.  A very appealing supporting cast chips in for good measure, with Voight effectively nebulous, Beart (8 Women) alluringly sexy yet naive, and the duo of Reno (The Visitors) and Rhames (Pulp Fiction) amusing, but not overbearing. 

Those expecting the TV show may scoff, but for the rest, Mission Impossible can be seen as a bit of a precursor to smarter spy actioners like The Bourne Identity and TV shows like "24", mixing intricate plotting with rip-roaring action in a way that allows us to gape and gasp, while not feeling guilty that we are enjoying a bunch of complete nonsense.  It's classy but not snobbish, exhilarating but not vapid, and fun all the while.  If, in the end, De Palma could have kept the explosive climax from going the James Bond route, perhaps it would have been the best spy film in years. As it stands, it is definitely one of the most entertaining, although it's been bested by smarter and chic-er efforts, not the least of which by one of its sequels, Mission Impossible III.

-- Followed by Mission: Impossible II (2000), Mission: Impossible III (2006), and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011). 

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo