Film review: Brad Bird adds wit to 'Mission: Impossible'

“Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” gallops into theaters almost exactly on schedule — its predecessors came out in 1996, 2000 and 2006 — and (more importantly) just in time to rescue Tom Cruise's flagging box-office numbers. Outside of his funny, if bizarre, guest spot in “Tropic Thunder,” his films since the last entry (“Lions for Lambs,” “Valkyrie” and the underrated “Knight and Day”) have all underperformed. The utterly enjoyable “M:I — GP” should fix all that.

Cruise has hired different directors for each “M:I” feature, from veteran Brian de Palma to transcendent transplant John Woo to TV prodigy J.J. Abrams, who had never before directed a feature. This time he has hired someone who has never even directed live-action before — animator Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille”). Daring ... and entirely worth it.

“M:I — GP” opens in Budapest, where another IMF agent (Josh Holloway, who played Sawyer in “Lost”) is trying to steal a briefcase full of MacGuffins (nuclear launch codes, if it makes any difference). Things go awry, and the other members of the team — Jane (Paula Patton) and Benji (Simon Pegg) — are instructed to round up Ethan (Cruise) to take over. The problem is: Ethan is doing hard time in a Moscow prison (for reasons we only learn about later).

They spring him, and in no time — I mean, really, it's the same day — he masterminds a scheme to break into the Kremlin and steal ... um ... actually I can't remember what they're stealing ... . Launch codes? A personnel file? The Hope Diamond? It doesn't make any difference — that's how MacGuffins work — because all we care about it that the gizmos they use are so cool. On the high-tech side, there's a more or less feasible invisibility shield. (I've seen it demonstrated on NatGeo.) On the medium-tech side, there's a teeny periscope camera attached to an iPad (or maybe it's Android-platform, who cares?) for seeing around corners.

And then the team gets framed as terrorists and are disavowed (as always promised), and a new guy (Jeremy Renner) joins them, and they go to Dubai, where Ethan has to climb the sheer glass outside of the world's tallest building from, like, Floor 100 to Floor 110 in four minutes or something and then has to chase a bad guy through a sandstorm, and then they're off to India for some other reason and he has to chase the same bad guy in a manner that looks very much like Donkey Kong or like Popeye trying to save a sleepwalking Olive through a conveniently placed high-rise construction site and ... and ... and then some other stuff happens.

The End.

Plot is really not the point here, nor is plausibility. What Bird brings to the party is wit. There were bits of humor in the earlier films, but you wouldn't call any of them funny. This one most definitely is: Some of the humor is reminiscent of the early Bond films, but most of it derives from the contrast between the human scale of the characters and the outrageously overblown action and technology. Pegg gets most of the good lines. They'll be flying through an airshaft in a magneto suit in order to upload (or download) the codes on a satellite link, and Pegg's character will make a typo that could kill them all. Then he’ll apologize in the shrugging tone of Rick Perry saying “oops...”

The attitude is endearing. “M:I — PG” may be mocking the series' conventions, but it does so without condescension. The result is the best popcorn movie of the year.

ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World