Two on One: Mission Impossible 2

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Two on One    

Missing in Action

by Karen Moline and Ray Pride


THE SET-UP: A lethal virus called Chimera, invented by a craven pharmaceuticals tycoon, must be tracked down by Tom Cruise and his motley team on their world-saving mission (should they decide to accept it). Hong Kong–born director and mayhem-meister John Woo works from a script that repeats much of the boilerplate from Hitchcock’s Notorious — wherein Cary Gant had to send his lover, Ingrid Bergman, into the arms of the enemy. Here, we have the tiny, tawny professional thief Thandie Newton, newly in love with secret agent Cruise. To save the world, he’s forced to fling her into the treacherous lair of Scottish baddie Dougray Scott. Kung fu, motorcycle chases and designer duds ensue.

RAY: Can a superhero in contemporary movies have a heart or soul? Let alone have sweaty aching sex and lingering regret for sex acts he may have committed?

KAREN: Not when Tom Cruise is the star. Here, his hair is the most sexual object in the film and his sunglasses have more emotion than his face.

RAY: I also noticed that Tom’s hair extensions were flying around like Daniel Day-Lewis’ in The Last of the Mohicans. The whole film made me think about something that veteran screenwriter William Goldman recently wrote: that the most remarkable, selfless act ever performed by the greatest, bravest fireman of all time — something that would break your heart — would be one-tenth as impressive as what a movie star pulls off before the opening credits. In that slot in Misson Impossible: 2, we’ve got Cruise taking flying leaps across the rock face of what might as well be Mars’ own version of the Grand Canyon, making his lonely way up with his bare hands.

KAREN: Proving yet again that the $20-million Action Man will always act alone. Not that we go to action movies expecting emotional depth and/or catharsis, but a smidgen of real emotion in between the crashes and the stunts might make for more pleasurable diversion.

RAY: This movie turned even Thandie Newton into little more than a tasteful accessory for Cruise, rather than a true costar. She’s a talented, gorgeous English actress who’s been in films by the likes of Bertolucci (check her out in his agonizingly sexy Besieged) — so what’s she doing here as willowy arm-candy? She and Tom make cute while she’s trying to steal a Bulgari necklace in a Spanish villa.

KAREN: Note the product placement, if you will.

RAY: I was noticing the placement of the product.

KAREN: Ah, yes, the inevitable pull-out-the-necklace-from-between-the-breasts moment. By which Mr. Cruise is enthralled and intrigued.

RAY: And we then come to one of the more unusual seduction scenes in modern cinema.

KAREN: Foreplay on wheels. Thandie has a mean way with the gear shift in her tasty little convertible, as Tom tries to play catch-me on mountainous curves. At first, his patter is suggestive, but then his driving becomes nearly as lethal as the flat lines he’s forced to shout. Of course, it’s another Hitchcock homage, recalling that memorable chase scene between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief.

RAY: The two cars go ’round and ’round at the same speed, then the image slows down, they look into each others’ eyes, deeply, deeply, until we realize they’re hurtling out of control and are just about to die in a flaming two-car pile-up at the bottom of a ravine.

KAREN: The adrenaline rush from the combination of sexual heat and overheated engines can be a real turn-on. But once Thandie crashes and nearly falls off a cliff, only to be rescued — natch — by the man who’d just nearly run her off a cliff, what’s the first thing she says? Not: “You fucking careless bastard — you nearly killed me. I’m going to have you locked up for life.” But: “What’s your name?” So now we know who’s going to be the slave and who the master, without even the benefit of a masterful, prolonged seduction. Unless you’re also into auto-erotic asphyxiation, I don’t think seeing your life flash before your eyes is a particularly enticing sexual game.

RAY: Forget auto-erotic, or any other kind of erotic, for that matter — we don’t even glimpse glorious Thandie’s belly-button until the final scene, despite all the little peekaboo-midriff shirts she wears.

KAREN: I quite liked how the racial barrier was not an issue, although I wonder if the sparse amount of flesh on show here was due to genuine worries about racism, or Cruise not willing to share the screen with any body more nubile than his own.

RAY: But when even storytelling is reduced to one-shrug-fits-all attitude, where’s the juicy sex we’d been led to expect from the trailer?

KAREN: I think we’re supposed to fill in the blanks, since we’re supposed to believe that Thandie is willing to sacrifice all after only one night with speed-freak Tom. It must have been a truly life-changing humpa-humpathon.

RAY: For someone who’s in love with slow-mo, Woo missed an opportunity go soft-porn with his stars.

KAREN: He also missed an opportunity for some nastier sexual moments, when Thandie unwillingly returns to the badass she’d ditched six months earlier.

RAY: The cutaway seemed entirely motivated by cutting too soon. There’s a look on Thandie’s face before we see Dougray’s leer that suggests they share a very kinky and consensually brutal life in bed. Then again, maybe I read that scene the wrong way — I was getting light-headed from Woo’s spinning camera.

KAREN: I was getting light-headed from the ear-splitting assault on my senses. Compare this to another, more successful version of its genre: Gladiator. Gladiator works so well; it has a story with a heart, and a hero who rises triumphant. MI:2 has a hero who starts on top and refuses to relinquish the throne. We become certain of the outcome; no erotic or physical tension remains to give you the tingle of will-he or won’t-he, and how clever does he have to be to get out of the won’t-he.

RAY: This MI franchise has the chance to be a kind of 007 for the new millennium, and what do we get? Boys and toys and kick-boxing. We’re missing what a true screen hero should get away with romantically: the slow burn.

KAREN: Tom Cruise is like the lit fuse on the old television show’s opener — he sizzles well enough, but never really explodes.

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