Spies like us

Idiotic agents sabotage the flawed, energetic Mission: Impossible

The screenplay is a lurching, muddled mess. If real secret agents are as one-dimensional in their thinking as these spies, you have to wonder whether Aldredge Ames was doing America a favor. Good thrillers should work on two levels: viscerally, as tightly edited action pictures, and intellectually, instilling in the audience a conscious fear of the inevitable repercussions of power unchecked. You can't accomplish the latter without sharing the nature of the fear with your audience, and Mission: Impossible is simply too convoluted to carry that off. It tries to compensate by adding a superabundance of viscerally compelling scenes, but it suffocates all signs of intelligent life in the process.

The film's two signature scenes--one atop a bullet train as it races through the Chunnel with a helicopter in tow, the other an infiltration of a computer vault in CIA headquarters--are ghastly in their conception but, let's not deny it, beautifully executed. That may be what's most depressing about the movie. It's so slick, it sets a new standard for movies of this kind--base, passionless, splashy, and eternally dumb. If Mission: Impossible does indeed kill the political thriller as a viable genre, you still have to admit that it does so with a flourish.

Mission: Impossible. Paramount. Tom Cruise, Vanessa Redgrave, Henry Czerny. Written by David Koepp and Robert Towne. Directed by Brian De Palma. Now playing.

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