Talk surrounding the release of any new Tom Cruise movie usually revolves around how much the world's most bankable actor earned for his latest role.
Not so with the release of "Mission: Impossible 2" ("M:I-2"). This time tongues will be busy speculating about the actor's life-insurance premiums after watching Cruise dangling precariously from the edge of a cliff.
Cruise reprises his earlier role as Ethan Hunt, an agent of the secretive Impossible Missions Force. In keeping with the template of the original "Mission Impossible" TV series, he receives a recorded message - with the requisite self-destruct mechanism - detailing a new mission objective.
Agent Hunt's boss (Anthony Hopkins) warns that an Australian pharmaceutical company has developed the antidote to a lethal virus that they will sell to the world after releasing the bacteria. Worse, a menacing colleague of Hunt's, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), has decided to blackmail the tycoon behind the scheme. Hunt must recruit Nyah Hall (a slightly out-of-her-depth Thandie Newton), an old flame of Ambrose, to infiltrate Ambrose's operation.
Naturally, Agent Hunt falls for the girl. This romantic subplot is flatter than "M:I-2's" shots of the Australian outback, while a woefully underdeveloped plot implies that Hunt's conscience is troubled by recruiting Nyah.
As in the first movie, Cruise's character is a complete blank, possessing no discernible individuality other than an insouciant self-assuredness. Indeed, one weakness of the film is that despite facing all manner of spectacular obstacles, Hunt is such a superman (rock-climbing sequence aside) one never feels there are any real "kryptonite" moments from which he won't be able to extricate himself.
"M:I-2" also lacks scenes that'll put sweat on your armrest like the famous CIA heist sequence in the first movie, and little of the ingenuity of the TV series remains. "M:I-2" does boast spy gadgetry that would have James Bond raising his eyebrow.
Like the TV series (the FX Channel will air seven original episodes May 28), this movie borrows from the 007 formula, right down to the last exotic setting. That said, this sequel ably succeeds as a crowd-pleaser on account of the sheer creativeness of its fabulously executed stunts.
Credit must go to the patented style of director John Woo ("Face/Off"), dean of the Hong Kong school of action movies. Woo's crisp editing punctuates lovingly composed shots of doves emerging from fiery carnages and people diving in slow motion while firing two guns simultaneously.
Cruise also executes graceful "Air Jordan" leaps before he somersaults his way into karate kicks. These impressive acrobatics overly prolong the last fight sequence - a common weakness of Woo movies - but they fail to spoil a thrilling blockbuster.
r Rated PG-13. Contains sensuality, violence, and scenes of illness.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society