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Saturday 3 December 2016

Movie Reviews: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Hot Pursuit and GAZE festival

Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon in Hot Pursuit

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation fares better than you'd think, Hot Pursuit is a disaster and the GAZE International Festival has something for everyone

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Action/Thriller. Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney. Director: Christopher McQuarrie. CERT: 12A  

Poor Tom Cruise. The actor has been skating perilously near self-parody for some time now, becoming a sort of Ken doll action figure. Ken dolls don't age... and neither, it would seem, does Tom Cruise, who at 53 is still doing his own stunts with serious aplomb.

This week, he returns to Irish screens in the franchise that provides the scaffolding for a career that likely lost its cool factor some years ago. Last summer's Cruise offering/vehicle, Edge Of Tomorrow, underperformed woefully at the box office, further hammering shut the coffin of Cruise's cred.

Undaunted, the Top Gun actor has teamed up with one of its screenwriters, Christopher McQuarrie (who also wrote The Usual Suspects), for the fifth instalment of the Mission: Impossible franchise.

And so Rogue Nation stirs to life with that famous, familiar soundtrack. The film hits the ground with a bang, with Ethan Hunt literally hanging from an airplane as it makes its descent. Still, this is the summer where franchises are heaped upon franchises. Can Cruise's Ethan Hunt break away from the pack?

Well… yes and no. After four movies, Hunt is pretty unimpeachable and indestructible, the secret agent that has already dodged a million bullets.

Mission: Impossible hangs on one simple trope: fighting terrorists with a series of small but highly dangerous missions, taken under perilously tight deadlines. It often means Mission: Impossible is little more than a series of stunt sequences, each one more eye-popping than the last. One in particular, in which Hunt is forced to swim several metres into a cavern to change a security key, provides plenty of suspense.

Still, there is a semblance of a plot for the sticklers in the audience: Hunt has been forced out of commission by the government, who have decided to pull the impossible mission force off the road.

But Hunt believes too much in his cause to simply go home and put his feet up. Instead, he zips across the world, throwing himself gamely into harm's way, staying one step ahead of those who chase him. This time, he is on the heels of a terrorist collective called The Syndicate, fronted by a truly sinister Sean Harris.

When it comes to Hunt's crack team of agents, the Mission: Impossible scribes appear to have missed a trick. Benji (Simon Pegg) is supposed to provide some much-needed comic relief, but his very British quipping and side-cracking falls short of the mark.

Luther (Ving Rhames) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner), are also woefully underused. In this operation, Hunt is front, centre and in control... well, until he meets the double agent Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). Ilsa, a true-blue femme fatale matches Hunt's ass-kicking stills blow for blow, and starts to build a subtle (yet strangely unsexy), flirtation with him.

Rogue Nation works fine as a standalone piece… but where does it fit in the overall canon? Thus far, Brian de Palma, John Woo and JJ Abrams have helmed chapters in Ethan Hunt's breakneck adventures, with varying results.

McQuarrie's film does what it says on the tin, moving the action forward and likely paving the way for yet another M:I.

Still, other action blockbusters have done better with similar raw materials. Pegg's buddy Edgar Wright hit the 'comic foil' target more squarely in Ant-Man, while Mad Max: Fury Road delivered nerve-jangling spectacle with much more horsepower.

Still, McQuarrie's film is lean, stylish and precise. Yet despite an onslaught of fancy intelligence terminology, exotic locations, quick-burning fuses and slick-sounding plots, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is.

Rating: ***

 

Hot Pursuit

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Comedy/Action. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Del Negro, Michael Mosley, Robert Kazinsky, Benny Nieves, Richard T Jones, Mike Birbiglia. Director: Anne Fletcher. CERT: 12A

Between Wild, Inherent Vice and The Good Lie, Reese Witherspoon was on course for a McConnaissance all of her own.

Alas, her career climb has suffered something of a derailment with this for-the-girls cop caper. Perhaps heartened by the fortunes of female buddy movie The Heat, Witherspoon signed up to play the plucky, spirited southern cop in Hot Pursuit.

But not even Witherspoon's charm, that brought tons of life to Legally Blonde and Election, can lift this film from the doldrums.

In Hot Pursuit, she plays Cooper, a cop with a backstory laid out in the film's opening credits. Desperate to tread in her late father's footsteps (he was a cop of heroic proportions, and Cooper learned all she knows on the beat as a child), she is tasked with a career-making job: to chaperone Danielle Riva (Sofia Vergara) to court.

Danielle is the witness in a drug case and her testimony should, in theory, take down one of America's biggest drug lords.

But life isn't straightforward for the unlikely pair, thrown together in these unusual circumstances, as they both find themselves on the lam - Danielle tottering about comically in stripper heels - with several parties trailing closely behind them.

There, the fun ends. In fact, the chase becomes a series of truly cringeworthy non-jokes and dated ideas about femininity. To pull the wool over some of Cooper's colleagues in a bid for escape, the women start talking about periods; a strategy not used by most women since they tried to get out of gym class as teenagers.

To escape from a farmer whose land they have trespassed on, Cooper and Danielle try to distract him by pretending to be lovers, laying on the snogs thick as molasses. He is so gobsmacked by the display he shoots his own finger off. It's that kind of film, where every joke is overly-wrung out, with plenty of gags long past their sell-by date trotted out. At the media screening, the LOL count was a very noticeable zero.

It's a crying shame Hot Pursuit is so lame, lazy and unfunny, as Witherspoon and Vergara are both truly talented actresses with a keen sense of comedic timing. There's a smidgen of chemistry between the two, but it's never fully deployed by director Anne Fletcher. All in all, it's an opportunity missed to bring something fresh and truly fun to the table.

Rating *

GAZE International LGBT Festival

Lighthouse Cinema, until August 3

Cinema audiences who are finding this week's Hollywood offerings a bit lacking should make haste to Dublin's Lighthouse cinema, where the GAZE film festival has plenty on offer, and not just for LGBT audiences.

Its diverse programme contains a few real gems, among them Tab Hunter Confidential (Monday, 8.30pm), the intriguing story of Hollywood heart-throb turned cult favourite, Tab Hunter, who spent part of his career fielding the affections of teenage girls while in a relationship with Psycho actor Tony Perkins.

Elsewhere in the programme, The Amina Profile (Friday, 8.30pm), charting the writer of a blog entitled A Gay Girl In Damascus, is already being billed as 'this year's Catfish'. Something, in a word, for everyone.

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