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Review: ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’

MI4’ Gets My Vote For Most Improved Franchise

Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise on a covert assignment in

Credit: Paramount

Above: Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise on a covert assignment in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol."

"Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (opened December 21 throughout San Diego) gets my vote for the most improved franchise.

When Brian DePalma adapted the 1966 TV series to the big screen in 1996, it was a big, bloated bore that typified everything that was -- and still is -- wrong with Hollywood. Most famously, or infamously, it was a film that started shooting without a a final script in place. The studio was so locked into its May release date that DePalma had to start shooting even though the script was incomplete. The thorough lack of respect for the most fundamental element of filmmaking resulted in a pedestrian film that could generate little excitement. Over the years not even John Woo could liven this leaden series up. Of course the basic problem is in star Tom Cruise who has never been able to have any fun with his Ethan Hunt character (the cinematic counterpart to Peter Graves' TV character).

But in steps Brad Bird. An animation director with "Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles" under his belt. He has brought not only life but a whole new attitude to the franchise. He has essentially done a live action version of "The Incredibles" and just called it "MI4." The action is fast and furious, and defies all logic and reason. But it announces its defiance of reality early on and just seems to be telling the audience, "Hey you can come along for the ride and have fun or you can do the math and try to nit pick about everything that's not plausible." I opted to go along for the ride and I have to say it was a blast. The TV series -- with all its gadgets and disguises -- was never very rooted in the real world any way. It was a TV version of the James Bond spy fantasy world.

This latest big screen "Mission Impossible" has Ethan (Tom Cruise) leading an even more covert mission than usual as the organization has to go further underground to prove its worth and integrity. Returning on the MI team is Simon Pegg as tech geek Benji who has now been cleared to work in the field. New to Ethan's team is Paula Patton's sleek and sexy Jane, who's out for a bit of revenge, and Jeremy Renner as analyst Brandt who's been doing more than sitting behind a desk.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Paramount

Simon Pegg having fun and getting the job done in "MI4."

Here's what Bird does right. One, he lets Simon Pegg (of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz") be himself and have fun. This lightens the mood and lets his character have more screen time to entertain the audience. Two, he delivers kick-ass action! This is a rollercoaster ride with adrenaline pumping stunts in IMAX. What's great is that although the film defies reality, the stunts have a realistic edge. So when Ethan makes an unbelievable jump or fall, he lands badly and with body crunching hits and bumps. He slams into car doors, steel girders on buildings, and it looks and sounds like it really hurts. It's a great mix that feeds an action junkie's need for death defying stunts but reminds us how dangerous it all really is so that we remain engaged in the tension of the scene. Bird also has a nice touch of letting Jane kick off ridiculous high heels or change out of a sexy gown before running off in pursuit of villains. How refreshingly practical! Bird understands how to have fun with the action, how to use gadgets with a bit of a wink to say, "I know this is outlandish but com'on how cool would it be if technology really did these things." This is an animation director at his best because he simply doesn't restrict himself by what reality dictates. Whatever he thinks of is what he decides can go on the screen.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Paramount

Paula Patton gets in a fun cat fight in "MI4."

And finally, Bird keeps Cruise's presence to a minimum and when he is onscreen he is usually engaged in action rather than dialogue. Very smart move. Bird also gets bonus points for adding Renner (or the studio or producers do, not sure how that decision came down in the franchise) and using him well.

Bird's only shortcoming is that when the film does slow down for dialogue and exposition it really slows down. He also has trouble wrapping everything up at the end. Writers Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec also have a ridiculously silly subplot involving Ethan's wife (Michelle Monaghan has a brief cameo as the wife I forgot Ethan even had).

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Paramount

Here's hoping that Jeremy Renner takes over the "Mission Impossible" franchise from Tom Cruise.

There was talk that Renner was going to be taking over the franchise from Cruise. The film doesn't end with that looking like it's going to happen. I hope it does because Renner is great and he brings more grit and serious danger to the film than Cruise ever did.

"Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence) would be my top pick for a new film this Christmas weekend. It is a live action cartoon action film by one of the best animation directors we have.

Companion viewing: "The Incredibles," "Hurt Locker," "Hot Fuzz"

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