By Richard Roeper
If the Academy had an Oscars category for Best Stunt Ensemble, this year’s front-runner would have to be “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.” I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but 61-year-old Tom Cruise has dedicated years of his life planning and rehears- ing feats of daring ranging from scaling a 2,000-foot-high cliff for “Mission: Impossible 2” (2000) to holding his breath underwater for an unsettling amount of time in “Rogue Nation” (2015) to jumping across rooftops in London in “Fallout” (2018) to the breathtaking sequence in “Dead Reckoning” in which Cruise as Ethan Hunt drives his speeding motorcycle off a Norwegian cliff, dis- mounting and BASE jumping into the gorgeous and terrify- ing valley.
They’re calling this “the biggest and most dangerous stunt in cinema history,” and that might well be the case. It’s such an outrageously audacious and beautifully executed feat of daring that on one level it takes us out of the movie, because we know that’s TOM CRUISE doing that s– -, and what’s the plot of this story again?
Ah, yes. The movie. We must discuss the movie.
When it comes to the plot of the seventh chapter in the franchise that kicked off in 1996, director Christopher McQuarrie (who co-wrote the screenplay with Erik Jendresen) and producer-star Cruise aren’t all that interested in anything particularly original. As has been the case in countless action thrillers and superhero movies, the quest in “Dead Reckoning” is to take possession of an all-powerful device – this time known as the Entity – that will give its owner ultimate power. In “Dead Reckoning,” there’s an Artificial Intelligence wrinkle, with the Heroes and the Villains and the In-Betweeners Who Could Go Either Way all vying to obtain two halves of a key to the Entity. (Didn’t we just have a “two halves of the puzzle” quest in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”? I think we did!)
Speaking of self-aware, this is probably the wink- wink-nudge-nudge of the “M:I” movies, as the exposition scenes and the numerous and always impressive action sequences are offset by a sprinkling of humor, e.g., one character awkwardly pressing and tugging at another character’s face to make sure they’re not wearing a rubber mask (HA), and an exhilarating car chase through Rome (didn’t we just have a crazy car chase through Rome in “Fast X”?), in which Ethan is handcuffed to a world-class thief (Hayley Atwell) and they wind up in a cartoonishly tiny, banana-yellow Fiat, zigging and zagging and spinning about as if they’re in a video game. There’s even a discussion about the mad- ness of the aforementioned BASE jump stunt before they go ahead with it.
While the “M:I” franchise has essentially given Cruise
the chance to play an American James Bond — and he has delivered big-time in every film – “Dead Reckoning Part One” once again reminds us Ethan is actually (albeit quite loosely) a part of a team: the Impossible Mission Force. The perfectly cast Henry Czerny returns as Ethan’s boss, Eugene Kittridge, while Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg are back as the loyal Luther and Benji, respectively, and Rebecca Ferguson resurfaces as Ilsa, the former British MI6 secret agent who still has a piece of Ethan’s heart. Also returning: Vanessa Kirby’s White Widow, an arms dealer who is not to be trusted (they never can be) but always looks stylish and classy along the way.
For all its action, “Dead Reckoning” does an admirable job of juggling a myriad of sup- porting characters; in addition to the aforementioned group, we get Pom Klementieff as a French assassin named Paris (why not?) who seems addicted to danger; Esai Morales as the cunning and ruthless Gabriel, who played an integral role in a key event from Ethan’s past, and Atwell as a high-class thief named Grace, who comports herself as if she’s in a Hitch- cock movie. (The entire ensemble is terrific.)
Which brings us to one of the coolest things about the film: the set pieces that remind us of various genres within the thriller game. A prologue set aboard a Russian submarine is like something out of “Crim- son Tide” or “The Hunt for Red October.” An extended cat- and-mouse chase sequence set inside and eventually on the roof of the Abu Dhabi air- port is worthy of a Soderbergh “Oceans” movie. The cloak- and-dagger stuff with the appropriately named Grace is reminiscent of a mid-20th- century Cold War film. Director McQuarrie and his team are experts at staging these types of sequences.
We’re told “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two” will be released in June of 2024. I’m going to go out on a limb, Tom Cruise-style, and predict that not only will Ethan Hunt defeat that arrogant and
seemingly unstoppable Entity, but he’ll also find himself choosing to accept a new mis- sion at the end of this one. Tom Cruise has enjoyed one of the longest runs as a global superstar in motion picture history, and he shows zero signs of slowing down.