Thursday, April 08, 2021

Mission Impossible (1996)

Movie Impossible

(FADE IN THEME MUSIC: Two For The Road. NOEL VERA and JOEL VERA are seated, facing each other. CAMERA TRACKS CLOSE TO NOEL).

NOEL: Welcome to the pilot episode of our show Two Thumbs Sucked, the only show on TV with identical twins for film critics. Our movie tonight is Mission Impossible, a Tom Cruise action flick produced by the star himself, the first time ever The Cruise Missile tried his hand at film production.

The anxiety shows. Cruise has packed the film to the eyeballs with special effects, narrative twists, neat technological toys, and enough digitally-enhanced explosions to satisfy the Unibomber. He’s gotten Brian De Palma to direct, Emanuelle Beart to pose pretty--but not nude--and Danny Elfman to do variations on the original Lalo Schifrin theme music. (CUT TO:)

JOEL: The Lalo Schifrin music! (ENTER MISSION IMPOSSIBLE THEME) Worth the price of admission. The movie delivers on thrills, accelerating and decelerating your heartbeat like a maestro (MUSIC FADES). When it’s over though, feels like you just saw the trailer. I was left wondering if there was an actual movie.

NOEL: There isn't. You’ve had the cinematic equivalent of Pepsi (holds up can. CUT TO CLOSEUP)--the choice of the New Generation (Drinks). Sweet and fizzy going down, but gas afterwards (Burps).

JOEL: It’s a disturbing trend in movies, shorter attention spans. Take the opening credits--the font used, by the way, is extremely tacky.

NOEL: Like the titles on a Charles Bronson flick if the editor fell asleep on the fast-forward button.

JOEL: The editing in the opening would have been rejected by the original TV series’ creators as too confusing. This MTV generation takes it for granted. What would the next generation consider fast-paced? Can they absorb plot points flashed a frame at a time, subliminally? What would they say about Lawrence of Arabia-- three-hour funeral? Camel porn?

NOEL: I was thinking of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Major snores from the cineplexes. Or the first fifteen minutes of Shoeshine. “No explosions? No nudity?”

JOEL: I think the movie is an example of the tyranny of Industrial Light & Magic, Hollywood’s number one effects studio, who did the digital effects. Digital effects are relatively new, and that has a positive and a negative side. On the positive, visual effects today are a director’s wet dream. The movie’s title should be Nothing’s Impossible Anymore.

On the negative, there’s a trend of effects looking like they came from the same people. It’s like the advent of sound: during the silent film era, cameras were relatively small, so Abel Gance and Fritz Lang could strap them on horses, or swing them from the ceiling. When sound came, the camera had to be stuck in a soundproof box, away from microphones. It took years to blimp the camera and free it for movement again.

I look forward to the day when computer visual effects become so low-cost a laptop can do an effect on-set, in-camera for about five dollars. Then movies will be freed from “That ILM Look” forever. (Applause. Someone shouts: “Vera for President!” Joel raises an appreciative hand)

Noel? (CAMERA PANS TO NOEL. His head is bowed and his eyes are closed. His snores are smooth and even. Joel takes a newspaper, rolls it up, smacks the back of his brother’s head. CUT TO:)

NOEL: The special effects have an even more insidious effect: Nothing Matters Anymore. With so much attention spent on effects, nothing seems to have been left over for the characters. I mean, when Emmanuel Beart dies, I thought: “Oh, she’s dead?” 

JOEL: I could still love Beart even then, I think. But yes, next summer, or even by the next big opening--Schwarzenegger’s Eraser or Independence Day--Mission Impossible’s explosions will be forgot. It’s no cold war story a la John le Carre or mystery noir like Robert Towne’s Chinatown; it’s no Hitchcock rip-off like vintage De Palma who, by the way, directed this monster. It’s not anything.

NOEL: Glad you mentioned De Palma. He used to make wonderfully personal films, dark, sensual stuff, shot in long, voluptuous tracking shots. This movie could have been directed by anyone. You only know it’s De Palma from the cynicism and occasional style, like the smoke from Jim Phelps’ (Jon Voight’s) self-destructing tape rising and merging with the cigarette smoke from his mouth. Or the helicopter shot that zooms down a speeding train to a closeup of the passenger window. Mike Nichols tried that twice in The Birdcage, and didn’t achieve the same free-floating feel. Of course, Nichols isn’t half the director De Palma is.

But De Palma is nothing if not a sexual director, which really comes out in the scene where Clair Phelps (Beart) holds her hand out to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). Cruise looks at her. He knows Jim, her husband, is alive; he also heard Jim telling him not to say anything to his wife. Ethan reaches out to Claire.

It’s the finest scene in the film, the emotions evoked after ninety minutes of toon espionage. It’s truly depraved, truly De Palma. (wipes the drool from his mouth).

JOEL: Check out Cruise’s real life v. reel life here. Ethan starts out with an older woman (a Mimi Rogers type) then graduates to a younger girl (a Nicole Kidman type).

NOEL: I don’t care if he sleeps with Brad Pitt--he still can’t act to save his life. His Ethan Hunt character can die at any time and you wouldn’t care. Compare him to, say, Kurt Russell in Executive Decision--now that’s acting.

JOEL: You’re bringing up that flightless turkey again. Vanessa Regrave’s Max in Mission is sexier and funnier than the humorless Palestinian stereotypes that hijacked Executive. She lent some wattage to a witless cast.

NOEL: Redgrave is a great actress--and yes, still incredibly sexy--but even she can’t save a movie with Tom Cruise in the lead. Executive Decision is a smaller scale, more believable Mission Impossible with real drama at the core. Think of it: you’re Kurt Russell on a dangerous mission; you don’t even know how to shoot a gun. But that’s Steven Seagal there--anything happens, he can deal with it. Then Seagal is blown out a hole at fifty thousand feet (even Hollywood stars can’t survive a fall from that height); you’re left leading a group of very scared men against a crack terrorist group wielding a nerve-gas bomb that could wipe out half of the United States. What do you do?

JOEL: You could soil your underwear, like when you first tried riding a bike and a training wheel came off..

NOEL: Point is, Russel didn’t; he was scared, but he continued the mission.

JOEL: You just rehashed the story of Executive Decision when we’re supposed to be reviewing Mission Impossible.

NOEL: Why don’t you review this? (takes rolled-up newspaper and cracks it across Joel's face) And that’s all the criticism we can take tonight. See you next week, and remember: you’re not seeing double, so don't adjust your set. Good night. (MUSIC. ROLL END CREDITS. BROTHERS SQUARE OFF WITH EACH OTHER, ROLLED UP NEWSPAPERS RAISED HIGH. FADE TO BLACK)

First published in The Manila Chronicle, July 2018

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