‘Mission: Impossible’ Is Long On Efx, Short On Everything Else

FRIDAY, NOV. 15, 1996

When the trailer for “Mission: Impossible” began showing in theaters last spring, it boasted even more thrilling sequences than did the trailer for 1989’s “Batman.”

And I still rate that original “Batman” trailer as one of the all-time best.

Using snippets of Brian DePalma’s adaptation of the 1960s-era spy/ adventure television show, the “Mission: Impossible” trailer used a montage of quick-cut images that promised to be some of the best special effects ever put on the big screen.

By the time the actual film came out, expectations were high. And at least in terms of those specific EFX, the movie, which is now available on video (see capsule review below), doesn’t disappoint.

Starring Tom Cruise as the head of an Impossible Mission Force (IMF) team, “M:I” boasts Cruise dangling from a couple of thin wires, Cruise smashing the front of a giant fish bowl and Cruise bouncing back and forth from a speeding locomotive to a hovering helicopter.

There’s just one problem: The EFX are too few to make up for the rest of the film, which is about as coherent as, say, a Smashing Pumpkins video.

The problem is all DePalma. Long considered one of the most talented of America’s filmmakers, DePalma has directed only a few money-makers in his career. For every one, there were several that barely broke even.

Remember “Casualties of War”? Remember “Raising Cain”? Remember “Bonfire of the Vanities”?

Not that box office return necessarily equates with quality, of course, but it does seem to be an indicator of DePalma’s major deficit - imagination.

For all his skills as a visual artist, and his skills are formidable, DePalma hasn’t been able to shake many critics’ long-held opinion that his overall style is mainly derivative. Early on, for example, he was dismissed as an Alfred Hitchcock wannabe (rent “Dressed to Kill” if you find this hard to believe).

Even in his more original efforts, though, DePalma boasts two main problems: He doesn’t know the meaning of the word “subtle,” and he’s never met a fancy shot that he won’t use. The result is that he continually takes you out of the story just so that you can say, “Wow, how did the director do that?”

“Mission: Impossible” is no different. What’s worse, though, is that DePalma apparently decided from the beginning not to make the film something new and original, something that would speak to a contemporary audience.

No, DePalma decided to keep to the “M:I” formula fully intact. He decided to retain the television show’s camp, and so he ended up making a film that, other than a few thrilling sequences, is an otherwise confusing bore.

Too bad you can’t rent just the trailer.

The Pallbearer ***

This little romance-melodrama is notable for two things: one, it is the movie debut of “Friends” star David Schwimmer; two, it is a virtual remake of Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate,” except that it has little of that groundbreaking film’s visual style and none of its cultural commentary. Instead, we have Schwimmer living a lie by agreeing to give the eulogy at a funeral of a former high school chum that he doesn’t even remember. He hasn’t the strength of will to disappoint the dead guy’s mother (Barbara Hershey), nor does he want to lose contact with the girl he always has loved (Gwyneth Paltrow), who doesn’t seem to remember him. The story is filmed competently enough, most of the characters are engaging and the musical score by ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland is terrific. In the end, the average moviegoer’s reaction to this film likely will depend on how he or she feels about doe-eyed Schwimmer. Rated PG-13

Mission: Impossible **

Unlike Andrew Davis, whose 1993 version of the classic television series “The Fugitive” managed both to capture the show’s good qualities and to update it effectively for a ‘90s audience, Brian DePalma’s “Mission: Impossible” is a virtual dot-by-dot remake of that 1960s show. Sadly enough, what DePalma seems not to have realized is that the original show was a curious commodity that, at once campy and tacky, wasn’t destined to date well. Starring such wooden actors as Peter Graves and Peter Lupus, the show depended largely on gimmicky special effects and plots revolving far too much around incredible instances of chance. At least in terms of plot, the movie version is no different, with Tom Cruise starring as Ethan Hunt, the point man on an IMF (Impossible Mission Force) team. When Hunt’s entire team is eliminated during a seemingly simple mission, he falls under suspicion and is forced to go underground to find the real culprit. Surprisingly little occurs, and what does has little of the EFX-splash promised in the pre-premiere trailers. As for the story, “M:I” fans should be step ahead from the opening frame. Rated PG-13

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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