Tuesday, July 16, 2024

If you’re a “Mission: Impossible” fan, you’re gonna be tickled pink by “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.” It’s not anything new, but the stunts and thrills are all there and you get to see Tom run and jump, tuck and roll to avoid the exploded carcass of an armored Humvee hurtling at him. But the appeal of a Tom Cruise “Mission Impossible” flick is that his Ethan Hunt has no superpowers to teleport through walls, smash through a steel bunker or bend the wills of the weak, though he is pretty good with a rubber mask. He’s a can-do everyman just like you and me – not really, but that’s the facade we buy into – and Cruise, who at 60 clearly has an all-access pass to the fountain of youth, famously does all his own stunts (perhaps too famously?), which inherently adds to the M:I pizzaz.

Cruise co-opted the 1960s TV series nearly 30 years ago with Brian De Palma in the director seat and an all-star screenwriting team that included Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”) and Robert Towne (“Chinatown”). In that first big-screen liftoff, the old IMF Team lead by Jim Phelps (played by Peter Graves on TV and by Jon Voight in the film) get killed off – mission disk-wipe and rebrand accomplished! “Dead Reckoning,” not to be confused with the 1946 film noir starring Humphrey Bogart (did Bogie ever leap between planes or speeding locomotives in his films?), is the seventh Cruise-led M:I chapter, and we know there’s going to be no less than eight including next year’s “Dead Reckoning Part Two.” Besides De Palma, Cruise has worked with some of the industry’s most distinguished directors just over the crest from their cinematic highs, including action auteur John Woo (“Bullet in the Head,” “Face/Off”), J.J. Abrams (the later “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” chapters) and animator Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”), but for these last four he’s settled on Christopher McQuarrie as his director and pen man. If you’re unfamiliar with McQuarrie, he’s the rapier wit who smartly played us all in “The Usual Suspects” (1995) and has since gone on to write many a Cruise film: “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014), the World War II Hitler assassination plot “Valkyrie” (2008), “Jack Reacher” (2012) and even the failed Dark Universe monster movie “The Mummy” (2017). McQuarrie also did Cruise’s most recent box office blast, last year’s unanimous crowd pleaser “Top Gun: Maverick.” The point being, Tom and Mr. McQuarrie are tight and have a good thing going, and are sure to keep at it until it’s not.

That said, “Dead Reckoning: Part One” is a lot of hand waving and techno claptrap about something known as “The Entity.” It’s a McGuffin within a breakfast muffin – that is, bread on top of bread, a lot to chew on with no meat to bite into. Just what The Entity is, we’ll all have to wait for “Part Deux,” but as best I can tell it’s something of a hybrid of a ChatGPT artificial intelligence nursing a bottle of Jim Beam and that pained virtual incarnation know as SID (sadistic, intelligent and dangerous) from the 1995 sci-fi whimper known as “Virtuosity,” a movie that people only went to see because it starred Denzel Washington and forgot about quickly because of McQuarrie’s “Usual Suspects.” Hunt knows whoever has the key to The Entity will decide who lives and dies when world-sustaining resources such as water, food and fresh air become critically scarce in the foreseeable tomorrow. If that sounds like there’s serious climate change talking points afoot, it’s just more of that bread filler so Hunt, out to get the two halves of the key (in this digital era, it is a literal key, and an antiquated one that looks like it could have been used to unlock a crypt in “The Mummy”), can ride a motorcycle at breakneck speed through Roma followed by Italian police and Pom Klementieff, more widely known as a demurring empath in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, as an able assassin named Paris behind the wheel of a muscular military vehicle. The sequence feels far too akin to the Vatican crash-bang in the recently released “Fast X” (which has an annoying part two, too). As a result, there’s a bit of early letdown; but when atop a runaway locomotive or dashing through a claustrophobic maze of Venetian alleyways (the murky haziness of it all hauntingly reminiscent of Nicholas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now”) or at an Entity-hosted rave with baddies toting Glocks just three writhing bods away, the action is “Tár”-timing taut, superbly choreographed and maintaining its grip from first blow to final fall.

Old pals show up: The Geek Squad Greek chorus of Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) are back, as is adversary turned ally Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson, who’s got another part two on the horizon with the conclusion of “Dune” this summer) with Henry Czerny’s eely IMF director Eugene Kittridge ever making us ponder if we can trust him. Back too, but in less of a commanding role, is Vanessa Kirby, the enigmatic arms dealer called the White Widow. But the true face of nefarious deeds this time isn’t so much the never-really-seen Entity or Klementieff’s Joker-faced assassin, but Esai Morales’ diabolically debonair Gabriel, an old foe of Hunt’s who takes great pride in his demonic gamesmanship. Adding to Hunt’s ever-expanding sea of troubles and checklist of those who may or may not need saving is a stately yet shifty pickpocket named Grace (Hayley Atwell), who lifts a key half from an unwary bearer nearly every other scene. She’d make a good running mate with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s come-what-may opportunist in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.” Just where “Dead Reckoning Part Two” goes doesn’t really matter; it’s all about Tommy under the gun, and it is good fun to see Tom run.

Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.