Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg
Directed by: Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”)
Written by: Andre Nemec (TV’s “Alias”) and Josh Applebaum (TV’s “Alias”)
The “Mission: Impossible” franchise is an odd one. As the only, “Hey, let’s update an old TV show!” film series to make it out of the ’90s alive (“Lost in Space,” anyone?), the movies have been a mishmash of styles, each film having little to nothing to do with the one that preceded it aside from the character of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).
The first one, released 15 years ago and directed by Brian De Palma, was Tom Cruise’s answer to James Bond with elements from the TV show, like fantastic disguises and self-destructing messages, grafted onto the plot for name recognition alone. “M:I- 2” in 2000 was a balletic John Woo-directed fever dream that featured things like a motorcycle fight and slow-motion doves. In 2006, “Mission: Impossible III,” directed by J.J. Abrams, brought a lens-flared grittiness to the series. Hunt took a beating after finally being held accountable to the laws of physics, and the franchise was given new life, as if a tiny explosive device had been shot up its nose.
“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” directed with ease by animation veteran Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) ends up being the first true sequel in the series. Continuing the tone set by Abrams (credited here as a producer) “Ghost Protocol” opens to find Hunt locked away in a Russian prison. With the help of agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton), recently-promoted agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” Hunt manages to stage an elaborate escape. The IMF needs Hunt, because it seems the recent murder of IMF agent Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) has resulted in the loss of Russian nuclear launch codes that could bring about the end of the world. After a mission to infiltrate the Kremiln and obtain a launch device goes awry, resulting in the IMF being branded as terrorists and disavowed, it’s up to Hunt, Carter, Dunn, and analyst-turned-agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) to stop global nuclear war.
While you can’t deny the slickness of the presentation, it’s the mechanics of the plot that dampen the enjoyment. The film’s big action set piece, featuring Cruise sprinting vertically down the side of the world’s tallest skyscraper, ends up being the end result of an incredibly robust network firewall, of all things (not to mention that his stealth is undone by running on the outside of building on actual windows), and the back story of Renner’s character (rumored to be a replacement for Cruise in future missions) is unceremoniously defanged by the time the credits roll. The gadgets range from innovative and fun, like an iPad-powered cloaking device, to complex and contrived, like a magnetic hover suit/robot combo. As villains go, Michael Nyqvist’s Kurt Hendricks is a disappointing bore, especially following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brilliantly psychotic turn as Owen Davian in “M:I-3.” While Cruise’s Hunt remains a cipher, Renner and Pegg combine for some welcome bursts of humor, and the chemistry of the pairing is reassuring for the day Cruise decides to step away.
The stakes have never been higher and the spectacle has never been greater, but the plotting has never felt more episodic. After raising the bar with the third movie, you can’t help but feel a little let down that Cruise, Abrams, and Bird merely maintained the status quo.
Starring: Paula Patton, Laz Alonso, Angela Bassett
Directed by: Salim Akil (debut)
Written by: Elizabeth Hunter (debut) and Arlene Gibbs (debut)
There’s really nothing to celebrate when the best thing about an African American dramedy these days is the fact that it doesn’t feature Tyler Perry in old-lady drag – or Perry’s name anywhere in the credits for that matter. It’s especially unimpressive since a film like “Jumping the Broom” is committed just the same to exposing every social and racial stereotype it can from its check list and calling it humor.
Directed by Samil Akil, who helms the BET TV series “The Game” about a medical student turned football wife, Broom finds ways to lambaste its core audience during a wedding weekend at Martha’s Vineyard shared by two families with incompatible personalities, tastes and bank accounts.
Loretta Devine plays a mother who doesn’t get why her son (Laz Alonso) wants to marry a girl who’d rather serves oysters than collard greens at their reception. Angela Bassett returns the favor as a mother sickened by the thought of her daughter (Paula Patton) marrying into a family eager to dance the Electric Slide.
Toss in a few black-people-love-chicken jokes, a Kunta Kinte mention, and a script weakened by cliché dialogue, paper-thin relationships, and exaggerated attitudes, and the exchanging of the vows can’t come soon enough.
Starring: Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton
Directed by: Lee Daniels (“Shadowboxer”)
Written by: Geoffrey Fletcher (debut)
Set in Harlem in 1987, “Precious” is a raw and harrowing film about the life of a 16-year-old obese and illiterate African American girl played miraculously by newcomer Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe. Precious is pregnant for the second time with her father’s child. Along with fantasizing about a life that isn’t hers (she wants a light-skinned boyfriend, dreams to be a model, and sees a beautiful white girl when she looks into the mirror), Precious attempts to survive every day she lives in the home of her despicable mother (comedienne Mo’Nique in a career-defining dramatic role) who blames her for everything that has gone wrong in her life. When Precious joins an alternative school program, her classmates and teacher (Paula Patton) tap into her soul and help her define what kind of young woman she aspires to become. There is a sense of hope inside “Precious,” but audiences will have to get through extremely upsetting scenes if they want to see the moral of the story director Lee Daniels establishes. The tough road, however, is where the powerhouse performances are. Both Sidibe and Mo’Nique especially deserve Oscar nominations for their work in this abrasive yet inspiring film.
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Amy Smart
Directed by: Alexandre Aja (“The Hills Have Eyes”)
Written by: Alexandre Aja (“High Tension”) and Gregory Levassure (“P2”)
If this really is the only live action film work actor Kiefer Sutherland can get while shooting his ever-popular “24” series, then it might be a good idea for him to stick to the TV show until some free time grants him more of a clear his head before jumping into one of the worst films of the year.
There’s nothing frightening or exciting about “Mirrors,” French filmmaker Alexandre Aja’s first film since grossing us out with the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” two years ago. The only horrifying thing about the film is that Aja, who is considered to be part of the new “Splat Pack” of directors focusing on gory details to reel audiences into their bordello of blood, was actually given a paycheck by 20th Century Fox to make this.
The thoughtless story begins as ex-NYPD officer Ben Carson (Sutherland), who is put on an undetermined leave of absence after killing a man, finds work as a security guard for a gutted department story destroyed three years ago in a fire. What Ben doesn’t know is that there’s an evil presence trapped inside the mirrors of the store that causes anyone that looks at their own reflection to see things that are not there and do harm to themselves.
Soon, the dark power inside the mirrors follows Ben away from his worksite and begins to threaten his sister (Amy Smart), ex-wife (Paula Patton) and two children. The only way Ben can save his family is to research the history behind the store and find out what the entity wants before it strikes again.
“Mirrors” is unwatchable simply because of the poorly-written script by Aja and co-writer Gregory Levassure. There are unintentional moments of humor when Sutherland screams at the mirrors, “What do you want with me!” and predictable dialogue when a morgue employee makes a joke about “seven years bad luck.” That is the scope of what “Mirrors” offer. Well, that and the usual gruesome accents Aja tosses in to keep his bloodthirsty reputation on the lowest of plateaus. Good thing he cast someone like Sutherland, who knows from his 1990 film what it’s like to flatline.
Starring: Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Paula Patton
Directed by: Joshua Michael Stern (“Neverwas”)
Written by: Joshua Michael Stern (“Neverwas”) and Jason Richman (“Bad Company”)
With the 2008 presidential election only three months away, in rolls some more political nonsense more absurd than an aging John McCain comparing Barack Obama to Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears.
Not since the disappointing “Vote or Die” campaign in 2004 has there ever been a more blatant attempt to draw voters through pop culture than the new political comedy “Swing Vote.” The morale of the story: Your vote counts, so make us proud America!
In the film, Kevin Costner (who hasn’t made a decent film since 2005’s “Upside of Anger”) plays Bud Johnson (can you think of a more all-American name?!), an unemployed single father who finds out his vote will ultimately decide the next President of the United States.
Bud is just an ordinary guy who wears t-shirts and drinks beer and is apparently supposed to represent the “everyman” that patriots can relate to. He’s not interested in politics, although his tween daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) is always reminding him that it is his civic responsibility to cast a vote.
But when Bud gets wasted on election night, Molly somehow manages to infiltrate the voting booth and attempt to vote in place of her drunken daddy. The voting machine, however, shuts down before Molly can vote and the ballot, which will later be traced back to Bud, ends up stuck inside system.
Soon, Bud becomes a hometown hero as media from around the world swoop into his small town of Texico, New Mexico to get a gander of the man who holds the future of the free world in his hands. Both presidential hopefuls (Kesley Grammer and Dennis Hopper) also jump on the next airplane to New Mexico to make their best pitch to a single voter, now their most important. Also on his track is local reporter, Kate Madison (Paula Patton), who is looking to find her own fame by getting an exclusive interview with Bud before he casts his ballot.
Basically, “Swing Vote” is a tired and cliché misfire at political satire. The problems start with Costner, who makes Bud so unlikeable, it’s hard to root for a protagonist who is the epitome of a born loser without the adorable quarks. The film also misses a chance to put a real political spin to the storyline by wasting actors Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci, who both play opposing campaign strategists. Where this could have really been a hilarious battle of minds, screenwriters Joshua Michael Stern and Jason Richman, instead, devise a desperate and silly scheme to make Lane and Tucci one up each other in dull fashion.
Whatever political attributes (if any) “Swing Vote” is peddling makes no difference. As a comedy it’s flimsy. Even worse, as a political commentary it’s uninspiring.