MOVIE REVIEW: Latest ‘MI’ gives action-loving audiences what they want

Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol

2 1/2 out of 4 stars

If Tom Cruise was an athlete, he'd be Tiger Woods. For about a decade -- through sheer will and laser-sharp focus -- each man was the highest profile and highest paid individual in his particular field of endeavor. Neither accepts failure very well and both fell from grace due to events that were unrelated to their professional performances. Both of them are now in Def Con 5 career-recovery mode and isn't it a little ironic that Woods won his first tournament in two years and Cruise has his most commercially promising movie since the last "MI" in the same week?

While it was admittedly easy and unimaginative for Cruise to revisit a franchise that does little to tax our gray matter or his acting talents, it makes all kinds of commercial sense. As much as he might try to show people he can do drama convincingly (which he can), his bread and butter is with action flicks and "MIGP" will thrill fans of that genre immensely. If you're one of them, you should go out of your way to see it on an IMAX screen (opening a week prior to wider release in the standard format).

Also playing it safe is Cruise the producer green-lighting a mostly unimaginative script that more resembles a tunnel-vision Cold War-era James Bond flick than a cutting-edge, globally inclusive 21st century techno-feast. Yes it has plenty of gadgets and state-of-the-art electronic gizmos and explosives -- while taking place seemingly everywhere around the world -- but still at its heart it's a kind of tired and rote spy vs. spy, US vs. Russia no-brainer.

Remember in the first installment the scene where Ethan Hunt (Cruise) scaled the side of a cliff and another when he fell face down and stopped an inch away from landing? Both are repeated here with only slight modifications. For the fourth time, Hunt's IMF team includes an exotic (read: non-Caucasian) female member (Paula Patton), a computer geek providing comic relief (the returning Simon Pegg) and a late-in-arriving wild-card newcomer (Jeremy Renner).

It's not that there's a lot to find fault with in "MIGP" -- it's very competently shot and edited and the audio/visual quality is off the charts. It's the first live-action feature from two-time Oscar-winning director Brad Bird ("Ratatouille," "The Incredibles") who puts his cameras in some odd but always interesting places and oversees some of the most eye-popping stunt work ever captured on film.

Perhaps it's because it's Bird's first foray outside of animation or that he's working with a screenplay he didn't write, "MIGP" lacks his trademark stinging wit, tight story construction and economic narrative style. Clocking in at a bruising 132 minutes, the movie is easily a half an hour too long and is just plain overstuffed with repetitive chase scenes and stuff getting blown up. Again for action fans this is a major plus, but for those who prefer story over effects (or at least a 50/50 mix) it grows wearily tiresome fast.

Also dragging the film down is the inclusion of no less than three false endings with the last one featuring cameos from "MI I, II and III" cast members and all but guaranteeing a fifth installment. (Paramount)