- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2000

I have an aversion to shorthand titles such as "M:I-2," Paramount's abbreviation of choice for the sequel identified as "Mission: Impossible, Part II."

Nevertheless, the shorthand has a telltale logic. The "Mission: Impossible" features, based on the popular espionage TV series of the late 1960s and early 1970s, prefer one-man glorification to the "team" concept that governed the original show.

The one-man hotshot, of course, is Tom Cruise, doubling as a producer of the sleekly alienating 1996 hit, directed by Brian DePalma, and this belabored, uninspired follow-up, directed by John Woo.

"Me, Too" sends Mr. Cruise's superagent alter ego, Ethan Hunt, to Sydney, Australia, evidently an open city without any law enforcement resources to call its own.

Hunt's assignment, authorized by Anthony Hopkins in a cameo appearance: to foil an Impossible Missions Force renegade named Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), who plans to blackmail the world with a killer virus nicknamed Chimera.

Expedient treachery allowed the first movie to reduce Hunt's team to Mr. Cruise and Ving Rhames, cast as an electronics whiz named Luther Stickell.

One gathers that the IMF ranks remain pathetically thin: Hunt requires only Luther and a newcomer, helicopter pilot Billy Baird (John Polson), to accompany him on the mission to Sydney, although the tasks and risks involved would appear to justify at least platoon strength.

One ludicrous situation at a racetrack obliges poor Luther to sprint from his high-tech satellite van to deliver a low-tech message.

Indeed, the entire sequence illustrates how to mismatch exotic and pedestrian spying techniques.

Hunt does lure an outsider into the mission: Thandie Newton as slinky jewel thief Nyah Nordhoff-Hall. The price of falling for Hunt after one smirky evening and a reckless car chase: an undercover reconciliation with Ambrose, Nyah's former boyfriend and a seething psycho.

Another whimsically ludicrous interlude demonstrates his nastiness with back-to-back amputations, the end of a cigar and the end of a pinkie, belonging to Ambrose's chief flunky, Hugh Stamp, thereafter Stump, impersonated in a platinum bleach job by Richard Roxburgh.

Silly me. I thought this atrocity might be a prelude to Hugh's defection, a soundly motivated twist that would give us three IMF regulars and two vindictive free-lancers to counter Ambrose's small army.

Such make-believe thugs as Hugh, however, are being stockpiled for Mr. Cruise to punish, typically with flying kicks, crunching karate chops and glass-shattering gunfire.

There are more Tom Cruise doubles in the plot than IMF agents. Ethan Hunt masks are used to deceive other characters or the audience on four occasions. The last is a collector's item, because it would require the amazing Hunt to disguise both himself and a dupe in about 30 seconds.

Where is this miracle makeup kit? Is it being marketed? Obviously, the quality of illusion that prevails in "M:I-2" did not have me begging for more.

The movie is wedded to everything stale and overblown in gratuitous, digitally enhanced Hollywood adventure thrillers.

The disillusions begin with the strange conceit that Ethan Hunt should be mistaken for a marvel of levitation and flexibility, a function only of Mr. Cruise's access to computer imagery.

I much preferred the scroungy but still heroic approach to espionage melodrama revived by John Frankenheimer in "Ronin," which can be acclaimed a hard-boiled, scenic and stunt-driving masterpiece when compared to "Me, Too."

The would-be grandiose chases and thrills contrived for Mr. Cruise look negligible at best and predictable at worst.

The coincidental appearance of a delightful new Jackie Chan movie, "Shanghai Noon," justifies even more skepticism about Mr. Cruise's posing as an impossibly acrobatic commando.

But those Ethan Hunt masks suggest a clever approach for the next sequel: an IMF team composed of Hunt and his clones, sort of a "Multiplicity" with the spy angle. Suggested title, unless someone has thought of it before: "M:I-3: Total Cruise Control."


TITLE: "M:I-2," a k a "Mission: Impossible, Part II"

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional graphic violence with fantastic trappings; occasional profanity, sexual candor and sexual amorality)

CREDITS: Directed by John Woo. Produced by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner.

RUNNING TIME: About two hours

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