Thursday, August 2, 2018


‘Blu-ray or Bust’

I’ll admit: I was late to the Tom Cruise bandwagon.

Growing up (yeah, he and I are both THAT OLD now), he was the actor all the girls wanted to see.  This was the cool guy “Joel” from RISKY BUSINESS, the handsome athlete in ALL THE RIGHT MOVES, the hero of LEGEND.  It was straight up jealousy at first—he was handsome, rugged, and got to make out with Rebecca De Mornay, Elisabeth Shue, and Nicole Kidman.

But as I matured (see: got physically older), I realized there was something else gnawing at me: his style.  His was a terribly self-aware on-screen presence which screamed “EGO!!” with every film I saw.  Then came the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films.  And EDGE OF TOMORROW.  And his turn as a Hollywood agent in TROPIC THUNDER really was amazing to behold.  I began to actually enjoy his films.  I shed my dislike and gave him the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps Tom Cruise had finally settled into himself, had realized that he could tell a good story by surrounding himself with great actors and telling a tale worth watching.

Now that he’s found a grove, Mr. Cruise has also found himself in somewhat of a conundrum.  Each MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie now seems to have the need to up the ante so far as the stunts are concerned.  Following GHOST PROTOCOL’s thrilling dangling off the glass of a skyscraper bit, the promised action of the follow-up (ROGUE NATION) had me a bit worried.  Were the films going to be reduced to the same type of stories built around stunts flicks that swallowed up the already bad FAST AND THE FURIOUS “films”?  But GHOST availed my fears easily; the story was good, the action and stunts as thrilling as promised, and the bad guy was creepy enough to be fearsome.

So, I wasn’t all that worried going into FALLOUT.  Perhaps I should have been.  Mr. Cruise & Company do exactly what I feared was going to happen: they traded good story for action.  Yes, the stunts here are rather spectacular, but with the year’s most predictable script, paired with typical dialogue and rehashed plot points, what you are left with is edge of your seat bland.  Hate to say it, as I am a fan of the franchise, but if I never have to watch another espionage film where the department/organization the hero works for is disavowed or shut down, or the hero becomes an enemy of the state, it’ll be too soon.

It seems the franchise has fallen into what I like to call the Bourne Conspiracy—meaning that the threat to the world isn’t enough motivation for our actors.  They also must deal with the possibility of never having jobs again because of government corruption or devious machinations of evil counterparts.  I’m giving up on trying to stifle those yawns, kids.  This would be a better film if half an hour was cut from the excessive runtime—because it’s about thirty minutes of reverb from other genre films that create the boredom.

The plot is as convoluted as ever.  Whereas in other installments, the leaps to each action piece were believable and necessary steps in the evolution of the story, here it is the bowing to lesser films that bogs down the tired storyline.  It is almost as if it is trying to reach the FAST & FURIOUS crowd too hard, like an old person trying to be cool by trying to breakdance, but to Frank Sinatra instead of the soundtrack to ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.  Anyways, the plot: after Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and team fail on a mission, the CIA assigns an agent (Henry Cavill, doing his best “I’m not Superman” imitation) to the team to track down the plutonium that Hunt and his crew lost.  Somehow, the villain from the last film (Sean Harris, who, unfortunately, is not given much to do here) becomes a pawn in the proceedings, and shenanigans commence.

By “shenanigans” I mean “stunts”.  And there are some good ones; a one-take freefall/parachute jump, another motorcycle/car chase, a helicopter chase, a foot chase…yeah, remember when I said they could’ve cut half an hour out of this film?  Add another five minutes to that for the damn foot chase…

I find it surprising that writer/director Christopher McQuarrie couldn’t find much new to say here.  After the refreshing splash of action, comedy, and engaging story which was ROGUE NATION, he follows it up with a less inspired story.  Sean Harris is wasted this time around, Simon Pegg gets one amusing line—even Ving Rhames seems a bit out-of-sorts this time around.  The redeemers here are cinematographer Rob Hardy (EX MACHINA), who manages to capture the action with various maneuvers that seem like guerilla/stunt camera work (and he should be commended for the job he does here), and repeat film editor Eddie Hamilton, who keeps the momentum of those action sequences at a constant pace.

I’m sure there will be another MISSION film in the future; Mr. Cruise doesn’t seem ready to pass the stunt torch just yet, which he probably shouldn’t.  What he and McQuarrie dream up here is thrilling enough to keep your attention, even if it is only when something is moving really, really fast.  But it may be time to get back to basics, and to stop relying on set pieces and retreaded storylines to sell tickets.

Film Grade: C

- T.S.Kummelman

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