Time crisis

The latest ‘Mission: Impossible’ installment is one-half of a somber story

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Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise in 'Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part I.' Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures.

For 30 years, Ethan Hunt has been living in an augmented reality. Everywhere he turns are deceptions, lies, trickery, false narratives and people who are not who they say they are. It’s all in a day’s work for Mr. Hunt, but this time, it’s different. 

This time, those lies and deceptions are being manufactured by something that isn’t human, doesn’t have a knowable agenda, and isn’t tethered to a state or a bank account. This time, Hunt is up against The Entity, an artificial intelligence algorithm that threatens humanity’s existence simply through its self-awareness. 

Lucky for the world, Hunt is once again played by ageless wonder Tom Cruise, who will run any distance necessary to accomplish his task. And for Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part I, he’ll run down the narrow alleys of Venice, up the winding mountain roads of the Alps, across the sand dunes of Abu Dhabi and through the streets of Rome. Hot on his heels are enemies foreign and domestic, and in his ear are Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames), doing whatever they can to ensure Hunt never wanders into a trap.

Somewhere under the northern ice caps lies a submarine with a computer program more powerful than even the inventor probably intended. As a fail-safe, the program can only be accessed with two specially made keys that join as a cruciform to unlock the program. Hold the keys, and you hold the fate of the world. That’s the MacGuffin Hunt and everyone else is chasing. As an added boost of mystery, the keys are a MacGuffin even to the characters. They know they need them, but not what they do nor where they go. Only one does, and his name is Gabriel (Esai Morales).

Gabriel and Hunt have a history. That makes it personal for Hunt. For Gabriel, nothing’s personal. You can think of him as a detached knife-wielding high priest who functions as a spokesman for The Entity — which plays on the screen as odd as it reads on the page. 

That’s not the only odd choice in Dead Reckoning. Lorne Balfe’s score casts a pall over what is otherwise a rousing globetrotting adventure yarn, while Eddie Hamilton’s editing during dialogue sequences is so bizarrely all over the place you start to wonder what they’re covering for. We could also get into all the various double-crosses, double agents, whose-side-is-this-guy-on? business, but you probably would rather watch that than read about it.

And you would probably enjoy watching the various chases (there are many) and stunt set pieces (which deliver) rather than reading about them here. They’re pretty damn good. As a physical performer, Cruise is one of the best working today. And with Cruise pulling double duty as star and producer, he makes sure the $290 million budget ends up on screen.

But it doesn’t leave much room for director and co-writer Christopher McQuarrie, which might explain why character motivations are murky and the narrative has a stop-and-start quality. There are some bright spots: Hayley Atwell’s Grace brings levity to a story constantly beset by the threat of annihilation. Though there’s a way that McQuarrie’s script slides Grace into the role of precious cargo that feels old hat. 

Then again, this edition is only one half of the story, so all these loose threads, ill-defined motivations and “we’ll get ’em next time, partner” moments are partly by design. So it goes in the ever-expanding world of franchise cinema.


ON SCREEN: Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part I opens in wide release on July 12.

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