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The ‘Mission’: more than implausible

Just in case you were one of the three people who did not see "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation" last week (the movie took in nearly $56 million its opening weekend), you might be interested in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Trends in mainstream moviemaking have always involved size. Whether it be big sound, big names or big screens, bigger is considered synonymous with better – at least in the minds of Hollywood producers.

And that goes double for producers of summer blockbusters. Seeing something in IMAX or 3-D, with Dolby Surround Sound, tends to keep those of us in the audience so occupied that we typically don’t notice any lacking in the story unfolding on-screen. That realization usually comes only after the house lights go up.

Take the latest summer hit, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” fifth in the film franchise based on the popular 1960s-era television show. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie – Oscar-winning screenwriter of the 1996 thriller “The Usual Suspects” – this latest “Mission: Impossible” has the IMF team facing its biggest challenge ever: an evil doppelganger.

IMF, of course, stands for Impossible Mission Force, a super-secret group dedicated to doing jobs even the CIA can’t handle, working with stealth, deception and high-tech gadgetry to foil the enemies of the USA, USA, USA.

That doesn’t mean, however, that IMF team members, especially team leader Ethan Hunt – Tom Cruise, at age 53 still in vintage action form – aren’t above pulling off amped-up action stunts. “Rogue Nation” begins with Hunt’s riding the side of an Airbus 400 in flight to foil a theft of nerve gas.

After that, the plot begins in earnest: Attempting to prove the existence of its evil counterpart, known only as The Syndicate, Hunt faces torture by one of the group’s minions. With the timely help of one-time MI6 operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), he manages to escape. But the CIA director (Alec Baldwin) refuses to believe The Syndicate even exists. So he succeeds in getting the IMF disbanded, after which Hunt finds himself pursuing the mysterious evil organization without institutional support.

Not that Hunt is without resources. The IMF team that plays together, stays together, after all, which means that Hunt can depend on a number of former teammates, including tech-wizard Benji (Simon Pegg), old friend Luther (Ving Rhames) and reassigned-to-the-CIA cohort William (Jeremy Renner) – not to mention the who’s-side-is-she-on Ilsa.

McQuarrie clearly has a talent for rendering action, perhaps the No. 1 requirement for a “Mission: Impossible” franchise, whether we’re talking about the opening – in which Cruise actually did ride the side of an Airbus – or motorcycle chases, numerous fight scenes and a digitally constructed underwater stunt. But plot? Intrigues involving the CIA, an MI6 agent played by Simon McBurney, the head of The Syndicate (Sean Harris) not to mention the ubiquitous Ilsa, give McQuarrie’s outline an overly complicated feel.

Ultimately, though, the story progresses almost too directly – to a predictable ending that, just as predictably, keeps things open for a “Mission: Impossible 6.”

What does set “Rogue Nation” apart, beyond the dependable presence of Cruise, is the humorous subtext – best displayed by Simon Pegg, as funny here as he is in J.J. Abrams’ reboot of “Star Trek.”

The jokes Pegg tells may not be big, but they do make the movie’s concept feel … well, mission: passable.

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