Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mission: Untenable

By now you've heard all the buzz about how Mission: Impossible 3 (otherwise known as M:I:3) "self-destructed" at the box office this weekend (to the tune of almost 48 million dollars...) It opened in over four thousand theaters, but studios expected a higher return. Like on the order of 64 million, I guess.

So the 64 million dollar question is this: Has Tom Cruise's bizarre behavior caused the audience's lack of interest in this project? Or, do the numbers simply reflect the fact that Hollywood produced a two-hundred million dollar film as a second sequel to a movie that wasn't all that good in the first place?

Let me say by way of prologue, that I haven't seen M:I:3. Probably will go this weekend (though I might go to United 93 instead...). So I can't comment on the general quality of this third installment, though I understand that the buzz about it has been quite positive from many sources.

I'm sure that Tom Cruise's bizarre personal antics (getting a personal ultrasound to monitor his baby's development, sofa jumping on Oprah...) cost the film a few bucks, but I tend to believe that the two-hundred million dollar budget is a particularly steep mountain to climb. Especially for a film with the designator "3" after the title. Traditionally in movie history, a second sequel is scrimped on budget-wise (because of the law of diminishing returns...), and must get by on ingenuity or other qualities (on example is Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1970), which boasted virtually no budget, but which brilliantly turned around the franchise's core concepts and relaunched the movies in a new direction).

What do y'all think? Is Mission:Impossible:3 the kind of movie you make a "date" for and run out to see on opening weekend? Or are you satisfied to catch it on DVD? It's not quite an "event" franchise for me (like Star Wars, Star Trek, Bond or The Matrix) simply because the two previous films didn't really stir me. I'm a huge De Palma fan, but I hated how the 1996 film destroyed the "team" concept of the TV show.

Now, before someone accuses me of being a cranky old fan (again...), I have to say that I don't mind a re-imagining of Mission:Impossible, but I just thought it would be nice to have (just one...) movie franchise about a team of agents working in tandem to accomplish a goal. After all, we already have the 007/Bond pictures, which focus on one man acting alone to save the world. And now we also have the superior Bourne pictures -- also about one pseudo-spy acting alone. Then there's also XXX. On TV, there's Alias (at least for a while longer).

The Mission Impossible films, now that they're just about one guy (and not a team...) don't hold that much appeal for me. I mean, what really distinguishes them as "special" now that the concept has been corrupted to be "The Tom Cruise Show?" This is where I think Hollywood is stupid. Back in the mid-1990s, Tom Cruise was probably the biggest star in the world, and the movie-makers and studios gambled that it would be better to take a brand name (Mission:Impossible) and shape it around him, rather then to keep the core conceits of the very popular TV show. Now that Cruise has gone off the deep end, the whole franchise - re-designed just for him - is in danger. Had the studio left Mission:Impossible intact as an ensemble piece, it wouldn't be facing this self-destruction today. Cruise's role could be minimized and the franchise wouldn't be endangered.

A perpetual joy of the old TV show was that it was very smart. You had to really pay attention to the plot, and what was happening, or you could easily get lost. The MI team exploited the foibles of the bad guys and got the job done oftentimes even without their presence being known. There was something very sweet and bad-ass about the way that the team got in, unemotionally did their work, and left undercover in a plain-looking van...mission accomplished. This idea is something that heretofore (and again, I haven't seen M:I:3) has been absent from the movie franchise.

So what do you think? Is M:I:3 a failure cuz of Cruise, excessive cost, or simply because this film franchise doesn't result in a must-see movie? I'm curious to know what folks think about it, especially since it has started off the summer sweepstakes and is considered one of the season's "big" attractions."


  1. Anonymous11:17 AM

    Hey John,

    I believe in separating the art from the artist, in theory and in practice. However, in the case of someone like Cruise, someone who is more “idol” than “artist”, I think it becomes much more difficult for folks to make the distinction. When you’re much better at being a movie star than you are at being an actor, you should probably watch your public image carefully. This is something I think some of the old timers, John Wayne for example, understood to their credit.

    I don’t really care about Cruise one way or the other. I thought he was good in Magnolia, but I remember thinking at the time that Frank TJ Mackie was probably as close to the real Tom Cruise as we’d ever seen. If you now consider the Mackie interview scene(s) from Magnolia in light of the recent Oprah incident, it’s almost spooky.

    As for the M:I franchise, I can take it or leave it. The first one bugged me for pretty much the same reason it did you: I wanted to see a team of spies in action, and instead we got the Tom Cruise Show. What’s worse is that we started out with a team, and I was digging it. But then they were all quickly and unceremoniously killed off, leaving the star to go all loose cannon loner on us. Yawn. Still, I’m also a big DePalma fan and, even though he was in hired gun mode, he put just enough of himself in it to make it somewhat enjoyable.

    I avoided M:I 2 like the plague, based on a very simple equation. John Woo + Hollywood = Crap. If I never see Face/Off again it will be far too soon. I do want to see M:I 3, but my primary interest there is in seeing how Star Trek’s new BMOC handles the director’s chair.

    By the way, it’s nice to know you’re a DePalma fan. Was Femme Fatale a work of genius or what? Talk about back on form…

    -Tony Mercer

  2. Femme Fatale is a great film, Tony, you are absolutely right. What a brilliant work of art, and a return to form for a great artist.

    Personally, I'm also a huge admirer of Dressed to Kill. That scene with Angie Dickinson in the museum of art, getting picked up by a stranger, is lyrical, expressive filmmaking at its best.

    And I concur with your thoughts on Cruise and MI3. In the end, MI3 just isn't a must-see-on-opening weekend thing for me.

  3. john woo wise, i agree about his hollywood work, although i thought "face/off" was a grand entertainment and the only thing he's done here that approached his hong kong appeal (of course its no "hard boiled", but then, what is?) also, i thought "hard target" succeeded despite van damme. there's some great action in that one. everything else he's done in hollywood, however, is little more than sad.