Cruise Uncontrolled … Double Demi, Twice as Bad

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Mission: Impossible was one of the worst movies ever made. Naturally, it grossed a fortune. Now comes the dreaded sequel, called (what else?) Mission: Impossible 2 , better known as M:I-2 . The title looks like a highway marker, and you will need a map to find the plot. But who cares? With Tom Cruise, an astronomical budget, an endless parade of explosions and car crashes and a brainless summer audience eager to substitute noise and stunts for character and content, M:I-2 will probably break the records its moronic predecessor set in 1996. Get ready to rumble.

With Hong Kong action guru John Woo smashing stuff, thrills are guaranteed. In the first shot, a Russian molecular biologist carrying a briefcase with a deadly chimera virus leaves Australia for the disease control center in Atlanta; but he is murdered, his germs are stolen and the plane is exploded in midair by a villain wearing a Tom Cruise mask. All before the opening credits even begin. Cut to Tom as secret agent Ethan Hunt on vacation, climbing a mountain of solid rock with his bare hands, and rudely called back into service in time to find those missing chemicals.

This time he’s got a new partner and love interest in sexy Thandie Newton, who plays a civilian jewel thief who also happens to be the ex-lover of arch-villain and renegade agent Sean Ambrose (Scottish heartthrob Dougray Scott), the man wearing the Tom Cruise mask. The real Tom must convince the girl to lure her old boyfriend back into bed so he can track their location with a microbe he injected into her pretty ankle that shoots information up to a satellite and then into a laptop operated by computer hacker Ving Rhames. That’s the only way, see, they can confiscate the chimera virus before it destroys the world. Wouldn’t you know the plans go haywire, the girl gets injected with the virus herself, Tom has 20 hours to save her before she infects the world like Typhoid Mary and the villain gets rich controlling the sale of the vaccine!

To hell with the plot. Let’s get to the action stuff. There is plenty of it, and although the credits list 45 professional stunt people, producer Tom Cruise wants everyone to know that actor Tom Cruise does most of them himself. See Tom wreck two gorgeous Maseratis on hairpin curves miles above sea level! See Tom snap a neck bone with his powerful thighs! See Tom do miraculous things with automatic weapons that haven’t even been invented yet! See Tom on a motorcycle, crashing his way through a barrier of fire using only one tire! See Tom leap from a helicopter and fly like Superman!

With a screenplay by the esteemed Robert ( Chinatown ) Towne, M:I-2 is only slightly less asinine than the original. This is not a movie about characterization or logic or even the most basic suspense that might hold it together. It’s a movie about Tom Cruise’s new hairdo, and it’s even sillier than James Bond because he takes himself so seriously. Never mind that you might occasionally pause between explosions and jaw-cracking fistfights to ask “Who is he?” He is Tom, moving away from the artiness of Stanley Kubrick in the iconic direction of John Woo action heroes, and taking home countless millions while doing it.

Anthony Hopkins makes a brief, unbilled guest appearance, playing Q to Tom’s 007. Ms. Newton is as delicate and lovely as any pistol-packin’ mama the screen has introduced. Mr. Scott often seems more charismatic and photogenic than the star. But they’re all robots in the lens of John Woo, who will stoop to any cheap trick to make audiences retch from the violence. Telegraphing every emotion with thunderous music and ear-splattering sound effects, he’s a shameless master of pain. When one trick works, he repeats it 10 times. The movie is so preposterous I thought it was a comedy, but the audience around me stared at the screen with the kind of deadly, poker-faced seriousness usually reserved for watching a documentary about the plight of starving cholera victims in Pakistan.

Oh, well. Summer is here. Enjoy that opening shot of the Sydney Opera House. It’s as close to culture as you’ll get in M:I-2 .

Double Demi, Twice as Bad

It could be worse. You could get stuck with Demi Moore in Passion of Mind . This pretentious fiasco strands the diminutive and recently unemployable star of Striptease in a twilight-zone psychosis from which nobody escapes unscathed. When first we meet Marie, she is the widowed mother of two, living in an isolated French farmhouse in Provence. When she goes to sleep at night, she wakes up as Marty, a career girl in the bustle of New York. In France, she’s a literary critic. In New York, she’s a literary agent. Two worlds, two identities, two lives. One is real, one is a dream. But which is which? Only one thing is certain–both of them are boring.

Her best friend in France (the fine actress Sinead Cusack, criminally wasted) sends her to a Viennese shrink who diagnoses a “multiple personality disorder.” Meanwhile, her New York psychiatrist (Peter Riegert) thinks that she created the life in France as a fantasy to escape from Manhattan stress. Personally, I think she’s been reading too much Sylvia Plath. While the plot meanders from French herb gardens to New York taxis with something less than an adrenaline rush, it doesn’t take long for Marie-Marty to fall in love with a different man in each world, both dull. In France, it’s William (played by Sweden’s Stellan Skarsgård), a novelist she’s given a rotten review. In Manhattan, it’s Aaron (William Fichtner), a tax accountant with a fondness for Julie London records. (Remember “Cry Me a River”? It still goes swell with merlot.) Much confusion ensues, especially when she tells each man about the other, and everyone smokes furiously and constantly.

In all the psychological angst, the guys get jealous and force her to choose. With the poor girl facing total schizophrenia, it is never clear why they don’t just check her into Bellevue. If only she could stay awake! But then we might never learn that her two daughters are really her , and her best friend is really her dead mother ! If you make it this far in Passion of Mind , you’ll realize she’s not the only one who needs some over-the-counter No-Doz.

Beautifully photographed in almost two different styles–muted impressionist colors of French chateaux and hill villages, and the clean architectural lines of Manhattan’s concrete canyons and connecting bridges–the film (and Ms. Moore) provides more than its share of eye candy. But from the star to the production team, everybody connected with Passion of Mind is living on past laurels. Rarely has so much talent been wasted on such weightless fluff. Director Alain Berliner is on board for only one reason: His debut feature, Ma Vie en Rose , was an unexpected success. Eduardo Serra, the cinematographer, won much acclaim for his softly muted camera work on The Wings of the Dove . Loose-limbed, smoky-voiced Ms. Moore gives it all she’s got. Yes, there is life after Bruce Willis, and her gifts are obvious, but she still hasn’t found a proper vehicle in which to display them. They’re all floating without a compass here.

Pretentious beyond words, this twaddle was produced and penned by Ron Bass, a high-priced screenwriter with easy access to outside financing, who won an Oscar for Rain Man , runs his own production company and grinds out scripts as fast as the checks roll in. He has also written Stepmom , The Joy Luck Club , Snow Falling on Cedars and My Best Friend’s Wedding ; he is currently working on no fewer than six screenplays at the same time. Only a scriptwriter with that kind of track record could get the financial backing for a movie this dopey. Smart guys can make mistakes, even in Hollywood, but when I think of all the wonderful unproduced screenplays written by writers with no contacts, I consider it a crime to see a mess like this land on the screen for no reason other than that Ron Bass has clout. He’s written some fine films and will continue to do so, but this one should have been tossed under the bed to gather dust balls.

Cruise Uncontrolled … Double Demi, Twice as Bad