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Saturday, 27 May, 2000, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Cruise's impossible mission
Mission: Impossible 2 première
Despite the critics, Tom Cruise is as popular as ever
By BBC News Online's entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

The sequel to Mission Impossible, M:I-2, has been released at a record number of American cinemas, virtually guaranteeing it will claim the top spot at the US box office in its first weekend of business.

It opened on Wednesday to take full advantage of moviegoers winding down for the long Memorial Day holiday weekend.

On that day alone it took in more than $12m, the third highest Wednesday opening ever.

Reaction from filmgoers at the 3,500 cinemas where it is playing has been buoyant. The general verdict is that the sequel is better than the original with more impressive action.

Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames
Co-star Ving Rhames appeared in the first film

But the view from American critics has been less rosy. Industry paper Variety described M:I-2 as "even more empty as a luxury vehicle than its predecessor".

USA Today's film critic said it is "built to immediately self-destruct in your memory bank upon completion".

But M:I-2's star, Tom Cruise - who plays special agent Ethan Hunt - has been brimming with pride, giving unqualified credit to its Hong Kong action director John Woo.

Cruise declares, "It's John Woo's Mission: Impossible. It's a John Woo movie, it's mythical.

"I love Woo, so it's Woo's Mission: Impossible."

Woo was the director, but because Cruise also served as co-producer, and carries the clout of being an A-list star, it raises the question of who was in overall control.

Ving Rhames, who apears in the sequel as well as the original, says, "I would say they worked very well together, but because John Woo doesn't speak English that well, when notes had to be given, Tom would throw on his producer's hat and give notes.

Thandie Newton and Dougray Scott
Thandie Newton and Dougray Scott have come in for criticism

"He would always consult John Woo ahead of time, so I think they worked well in tandem. I think they had a good understanding of how to deal with the actors."

The British cast members in M:I-2, of which there are several, have provoked a mixed reaction from American audiences.

There is general agreement that Sir Anthony Hopkins, who appears briefly in an unbilled performance, is crisp and strong as Ethan Hunt's boss.

But there is some debate over Thandie Newton's role as Nyah, an international thief who becomes Hunt's love interest.

Newton jokes of her love scenes with Tom Cruise.

"When I read the script I realized that the romantic element was incredibly important, so you know a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do," she says.

"It's like any job, cleaning the drains!"

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise in the first film

Some critics feel the Cruise-Newton relationship exhibits very little sexual chemistry. In her defence, it's fair to say that this is partly because Newton has been given some pretty bad lines to articulate.

Also dividing moviegoers is the casting and performance of Scottish actor Dougray Scott, who plays the picture's chief villain Scott Ambrose.

Audiences have complained he's not right for the role, and that his acting is lacklustre.

But at the film's première Scott was ebullient, saying he was particularly proud of being able to play a character in a big budget Hollywood action movie without changing his accent.

"I don't often get the chance to play Scottish. It's good so all over the world people will see a Scottish voice, it's nice," he said.

The main complaint levelled at the original film was that the plot was incoherent.

In the sequel this problem has been addressed, almost to the extent that the exposition gets too heavy handed at times.

John Woo
Action ace: John Woo

Robert Towne, who wrote the screenplays, says: "We were very mindful of making sure the audience would be able to follow the story.

"We really paid a lot of attention to the character relationships in it. There is a strong love triangle in the story and that was in itself very different from the original."

Although ace action director John Woo fashioned M:I-2, it is not a film, at least in my opinion, that represents a breakthrough in the genre.

Stylistically it seems to borrow from films like The Matrix. It is perhaps best described as an old fashioned James Bond picture, made to look hip and cool by John Woo.

True, M:I-2 may be an instantly forgettable Hollywood confection, but in my mind it is at least more entertaining than the original.

Whether it becomes the mega hit many predict remains questionable.

Without any distinctive content, or humour, it may lack the "legs" to maintain a prime spot as the top grossing summer blockbuster.

Mission: Impossible 2 opens in the UK on 7 July.

See also:

19 May 00 | Entertainment
Cruise completes première Mission
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