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'Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning' is impossibly full of surprises

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's that time of year - summer movie season. And in theaters today, Tom Cruise is back as IMF agent Ethan Hunt in his seventh "Mission: Impossible" movie, "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One." It's a long title and a long movie, at 2 hours and 43 minutes. But NPR's film critic Bob Mondello says that, like its ever-on-the-run main character, the film always seems to have one more surprise in store.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Technology is taking over...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE")

REBECCA FERGUSON: (As Ilsa Faust) The world is changing.

MONDELLO: ...Removing guardrails...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE")

FERGUSON: (As Ilsa Faust) Truth is vanishing.

MONDELLO: ...And it's time for the one man who can to stand up.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE")

FERGUSON: (As Ilsa Faust) War is coming.

MONDELLO: That, at any rate, is the gist of "Dead Reckoning Part One," which wants to stop not a bad guy, but technology, from destroying all we hold dear.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE")

ESAI MORALES: (As Gabriel) You've no idea the power I represent.

MONDELLO: You could argue, of course, that fighting against technology is also what drives Tom Cruise's movie career. While other film heroes, both super and non, are green-screening their way to glory with digital effects, the world's most bankable movie star has made a fetish of doing things the old-fashioned way - physically on screen, no matter how preposterous the things might be in real life - as in what is easily the least practical but most idiotically enjoyable method of boarding a moving train a filmmaker has ever come up with - that death-defying motorcycle-off-a-cliff bit that's absolutely everywhere online these days.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORCYCLE ENGINE REVVING)

MONDELLO: Why does Ethan need to be on the train? Well, that has to do with an artificial-intelligence entity called, cleverly enough, The Entity, a black-market arms dealer, an enigmatic pickpocket and a sadistic ghost from Ethan's past - all of them in pursuit of a tricky two-part key thingy that will do something that'll be revealed next year in "Part Two." In the meantime, director Christopher McQuarrie has lots of setting up to do about the pickpocket, who is understandably skittish around the Impossible Missions Force until Ethan explains his personal credo...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE")

TOM CRUISE: (As Ethan Hunt) Your life will always matter more to me...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CRUISE: (As Ethan Hunt) ...than my own.

MONDELLO: ...About the sadist who works for The Entity and has figured out that Ethan's weak spot is that he cares so much about his pals...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE")

CRUISE: (As Ethan Hunt) If anything happens to them, there's no place that I won't go to kill you.

MONDELLO: ...And an assortment of entertaining bits involving latex masks, computer-choreographed chases, and lots of daredeviltry (ph)...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Hang on.

MONDELLO: ...All of it as cinematic as it is time-honored. Some grad student will no doubt write a thesis one day about "Dead Reckoning's" homages to earlier action classics. "The Hunt For Red October's" depth-charge sequence, this time with an AI payoff...

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

MONDELLO: "...Lawrence Of Arabia's" desert chase on horseback, augmented with AK-47s; the Mini Cooper pursuit from "Italian Job," done with a mini Fiat and a Hummer...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE")

CRUISE: (As Ethan Hunt) People are chasing us.

HAYLEY ATWELL: (As Grace) Yes, they are. You're driving.

MONDELLO: ...And everything that's ever been done atop a train in a movie capped by a locomotive-plunging-from-a-bridge sequence that tries to one-up Buster Keaton's "The General."

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN WHISTLING)

MONDELLO: As if that weren't enough, the directors also found a way to do several nods to "The Poseidon Adventure" on a train, which I'd not have thought possible, but where there's a will, I guess.

To cut to the chase, as it were, "Dead Reckoning" is a state-of-the-art blockbuster that's also defiantly old-school, suspenseful in ways no digital effects fest can hope to match.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE")

ATWELL: (As Grace) Who is that person?

CRUISE: (As Ethan Hunt) I have no idea.

MONDELLO: It is at once ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining - a bone-rattling, adrenaline-pumping thrill ride with a 61-year-old movie star who seems determined not just to save the world, but to save Hollywood while he's doing it. It'd be impossible not to root for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE")

ATWELL: (As Grace) Looks like we lost them.

MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF BORIS HARIZANOV'S "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE DEAD RECKONING PART ONE - MAIN THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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