Mission: Impossible (Brian De Palma)

Rating: *** (out of ****)

There are two disclaimers that absolutely must accompany my favorable opinion of this ridiculous movie. The first is that I have never seen even as little as five seconds of the TV series on which it's (apparently rather loosely) based. There's been no small amount of criticism regarding the ways in which the movie negates or ignores the fundamental tenets of the show, and these complaints may well be valid, but I wouldn't know. Never saw it. The second disclaimer: I like caper movies. If you make a film in which a group of people work as a team to infiltrate some impregnable fortress and retrieve some vital document, I'm along for the ride; you'll have to work overtime to make a film of this sort that's so awful that I won't enjoy it. I liked Sneakers, okay? Hell, I liked The Manhattan Project, and there wasn't even a team -- just a single geek! Mission: Impossible, to be honest, is pretty darn stupid. The double-crossing-back-stabbing-second-guessing plot is convoluted and largely uninteresting, and De Palma and/or various writers don't help matters by inexplicably revealing one of its twists far too early. Tom Cruise, who does fine work when he's cast opposite a "heavyweight" like Paul Newman or Dustin Hoffman, is in Superstar Mode here, and provides his usual serviceable but bland performance (he's still better than Keanu Reeves in Speed). Emmanuelle Beart, in her first English-speaking role, is utterly wasted. On the other hand, Cruise and Beart are surrounded by a host of terrific character actors having tremendous fun: Kristin Scott Thomas, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, the always interesting Henry Czerny, and especially Vanessa Redgrave, who alone seems to fully understand what kind of dopey movie she's in. The narrative is ultimately unsatisfying, but it does manage to keep you awake while it's unfolding (unlike that of another summer blockbuster I could name), and the set pieces, when they arrive, are truly spectacular; the Langley break-in may have been borrowed wholesale from a couple of Dassin films, but it's still a bravura piece of filmmaking, and precisely what De Palma does best. The more I think about the movie's flaws, the more I'm tempted to downgrade my rating, but the fact is that I enjoyed it while it was in front of me, which is all that I ask. That I'll have completely forgotten it by next week doesn't matter.