December 16, 2011

THE SHOWBUZZDAILY REVIEW: “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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MISSION:  IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL:  Worth A Ticket – Routine But Spectacular


With MISSION:   IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, Brad Bird makes the very unusual transition from animation auteur to live-action director.   Of course, since his animated work includes The Incredibles, one of the snazziest and smartest action-adventures of recent years, the leap isn’t as great as it might be for others.  And for a while, it appears as though Bird might triumphantly transfer his genius for space, movement and timing to real people and settings:  the opening sequences of MI4, an assassination and a jail-break (staged to Dean Martin singing “Ain’t That A Kick In the Head”), have a deftness and visual buoyancy that are completely new to the usually heavy-handed, moody universe of Mission: Impossible


Then, alas, the plot kicks in, and for all Bird’s skill and occasionally wonderful touches (in the scene where Cruise famously climbs a massive Dubai office tower, Bird practically turns an high-tech climbing glove into a Looney Tunes character), MI4 becomes another big-budget spectacle too overloaded and generic for its own good.  Any thriller that has as its MacGuffin the search for nuclear launch codes is at least 20 years too late, and MI4‘s storyline, credited to Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec (longtime members of producer J. J. Abrams’ writing brotherhood) seems to have been thawed out from late in the Cold War.

It’s a shame, really, because MI4 gets a lot of important elements just right.  Considering that Bird had never worked with live actors before other than as voice recordings, it’s remarkable how good he is with the performers.  Tom Cruise is infinitely more bearable here than he was in Knight and Day; Cruise is letting his age show (albeit in the way that Hollywood stars with unlimited resources permit themselves to age), and his slightly haggard, slightly tired air is becoming–it gives some weight to his derring-do.  Although he mugged unforgivably in Knight and Day, when he keeps himself in check, Cruise has always had a flair for subtle comedy, and Bird draws that out of him, especially when he interacts with Simon Pegg as another member of the IMF team.  (Pegg is also kept under commendably tight rein.)  Until he’s defeated by the movie’s one thudding attempt at a plot twist, Jeremy Renner is a fine addition to the group, a 1970s type action star who carries his own wariness and edge.  Paula Patton rounds out the leads, and here again, while she of course has her badass catfight scene, Bird doesn’t play her for the obvious angle of beauty-plus-violence.

Apart from its rote and overly padded (133 minutes) storyline, MI4 ends up derailed by its utterly bland villain, that dealer in nuclear codes, who has a ridiculous motive and as played by Michael Nyqvist (Blomkvist in the Swedish Dragon Tattoo films), no presence at all–I kept waiting for the revelation that he was just henchman to the real villain, but no such luck.  Of the baddies, only Lea Seydoux (the sweet girl Owen Wilson meets at the antique stand in Midnight In Paris) has any evil heat.  The picture is also oddly unbalanced, with the best action sequences coming at the beginning and middle (that climb up the Dubai office tower), with a relatively weak conclusion out of a second-caliber Bond movie.  (What would these pictures do without bombs that come equipped with Abort buttons?)

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is fair entertainment, especially if you have the opportunity to see it in real Imax, because chunks of the film were shot in that format, and the giant shots of Dubai, Budapest, Moscow and other locales are breathtaking.  Here, as in every other way, the picture makes great use of Grade A Hollywood craftsmanship:  photography by Robert Elswit, music by Michael Giacchino (incorporating, of course, Lalo Schifrin’s immortal theme), editing by Paul Hirsch, production design by James D. Bissell.   MI4 is far better than its main competition for the action-movie franchise audience this holiday season, Sherlock Holmes:  Game of Shadows.  But there was potential here for an adventure as thrilling in live action as Brad Bird’s Incredibles is in animation.  That, it seems, was ultimately a mission truly not possible.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."