[box cover]

Mission: Impossible 2

After the success of 1996's Mission: Impossible, it would seem standard-bearer Tom Cruise was soon interested in building a franchise with the popular '60s TV series, revivified as summer-blockbuster material. The first film had several good things going for it, including director Brian De Palma, screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown), and actors Jon Voight and Ving Rhames. With Mission: Impossible 2, Towne and Rhames returned, but Cruise's ringer in the batting lineup was none other than Hong Kong action-master John Woo. Why? You can ask Cruise (if you can get through his publicist), but frankly, what actor hasn't seen Chow Yun Fat in such Woo masterpieces as The Killer and Hard Boiled and not felt a little envious of Chow and the way Woo's unique stylistics elevate his screen persona? Who doesn't want to do the horizontal leap with two guns blazing and stuff blowing up like it's the Fourth of July? In fact, the decision to build M:I-2 around Woo's action sequences was such a driving force of the production that Towne, when brought in for the initial script work, found he had to create a story around several set-pieces already underway. Thus, the writer settled in part on Hitchcock's 1947 Notorious for his source material. And while not an entirely successful adaptation (er, the Hitchcock film is better by far), it did give the script less in the way of plot twists that left some viewers of the first M:I a little dumbfounded. Cruise reprises his 1996 role as Ethan Hunt, secret agent for the just-as-secret IMF, who is tasked this time around with locating rogue agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), who is involved in a plot to infect the world's population with a deadly virus. Agency head Swanbeck (Anthony Hopkins, in a cameo role) tells Hunt he can have any two agents on his mission, but he also must recruit petty-thief Nyah Nordoff-Hall (tasty crumpet Thandie Newton), who once dated Ambrose and can be used to gain his confidence. The team eventually locates Ambrose in Australia, but an operation to destroy the virus goes awry, leading to a series of final confrontations, including several wrecked cars and motorcycles, and a few nifty fights.

Upon release in early 2000, plenty of folks derided the threadbare plot of M:I-2, and for the most part they were right. If the first film had a head-spinning quality that alienated some viewers, its successor barely rose to the level of a James Bond film, and a rather pedestrian one at that. But (if we may take exception), these critics were also sort of missing the point. Woo's Face-Off is a deeply goofy movie on a basic level, but it became a crowd-pleaser because of its swift pacing, over-the-top acting by John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, and those amazing stunts. There's little in a way of notable performances in M:I-2, but it has everything Woo fans can expect from him nowadays, including a palm-sweating opening as Cruise rock-climbs at Moab, a blistering car chase with Cruise and Newton, a tense sequence (reminiscent of the first M:I) as Cruise breaks into a high-security laboratory, and a final 20 minutes of non-stop action, including an extensive motorcycle chase. All bear the inimitable mark of Woo, who may still be looking for that first masterpiece in the American film industry, but still has managed to come up with a handful of good additions to his catalog. With Tom Cruise on the box-cover and a $215 million box-office in North America, any DVD release of Mission: Impossible 2 should be packed, and Paramount has come up with the goods. In addition to a crystal-clear anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and audio in booming DD 5.1, features on the disc include a commentary from Woo, "Behind the Mission," a 15-minute behind-the-scenes short, "Impossible Shots," a look at 11 sequences and stunts and how they were created, a five-minute featurette on the stunt-work, a brief alternate title sequence, and the music video "I Disappear" by Metallica. Best of all? "Mission Improbable," the M:I-2 parody from the 2000 MTV Movie Awards featuring Ben Stiller as "Tom Crooze," Cruise's insufferable stunt-double and Hollywood hanger-on. Keep-case.

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