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Mission Style 

Rogue Nation's solid action, wobbly story; Vacation detours

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — ROGUE NATION. As time has gone on, Mission: Impossible has come to feel less and less like its own, distinct franchise than the goofy, virginal younger sibling of the Bond movies. Sure, they still rely a bit more on Rube Goldberg contrivances and now iPad-based hacking, but at the end of the day they are focused on a good looking superman plying his violent trade in various photogenic locales around the world. Bond, at least the Daniel Craig version, just does it with more cruelty, better suits and at least a couple of cocktails. Now, with the new Bond trailer starting to rattle the multiplex, the two tent-poles are even starting to take on more similar narratives: OO7 has SPECTRE to deal with, and Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) Impossible Missions Force is at odds with the joylessly named Syndicate.

Rogue Nation opens with Cruise's justifiably buzzed-about cargo plane takeoff stunt, wherein Ethan Hunt takes desperate measures to separate some Eastern bloc thugs from the payload of nerve gas they've wrongfully acquired. It's a bang-up stunt, and part of a smartly assembled opening action sequence, the first of several such set pieces in the movie. Trouble is, we move from there into the actual story-telling part of the story, and it drains off the adrenaline in a heartbeat. Hunt, steadfast in his pursuit of the heretofore unknown Syndicate, is captured by said shadow organization. He escapes, barely, with the aid of a mysterious female agent named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whose name sounds like it must have been salvaged from some discarded Fleming/Broccoli short-list. While Hunt goes underground, a senate sub-committee convenes to probe the IMF, eventually heeding the counsel of CIA director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) to shutter the organization. Six months pass; Hunt is still on the run, the lovable Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) has been relegated to some low-level coding job at the Agency, forced to defeat polygraphs each week as Hunley tries to draw out Hunt's whereabouts. Benji's deception is successful, and makes him available for a Hunt-orchestrated jaunt to Vienna, where Hunt thinks he has located a key figure in Syndicate conspiracy. He and Benji encounter Ilsa Faust anew, and get caught up in a multi-faceted assassination plot. Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) gets roped into an assist, with William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) along for the ride. From this point, it's off to London for a little bit of background on Faust, then to Morocco for an admittedly thrilling car/motorcycle chase sequence, some underwater hijinks and a few more turnabouts and double-crosses.

Rogue Nation is decidedly heavy on star power, with Cruise comfortably taking the reins. As I've said before, the guy's star power and commitment are undeniable. Ferguson gives a compelling performance as a slightly underdeveloped character, and Pegg does his bemused comic relief charmingly.

Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, formerly known mostly as a screenwriter and for his collaborations with director Bryan Singer (McQuarrie won the Oscar for The Usual Suspects, back when), understands how to plot an action-thriller, with large-scale stunt sequences underpinning the whole thing. The connecting material, while sometimes frustratingly convoluted, is disappointingly without depth or development. The action is great, especially that Moroccan motorcycle chase sequence, but the plot itself proves to be disappointingly simplistic; so much so that the story leaves precious little impression when the credits roll. It's a pleasant-enough entertainment, but it lacks the darkness and danger that have raised the game of the recent Bond movies, of which it seems so derivative. Instead, Rogue Nation is lodged uncomfortably between seriousness and silliness, and that isn't much fun. PG13. 132m.

VACATION. While we're talking of things that aren't fun: this. Probably the less said about it the better, so I'll try to keep it brief. The original National Lampoon's Vacation movies are classics to varying degrees, culminating for me with Christmas Vacation (1989). Admittedly, they were made decades ago, but they've left a lasting impression on popular culture with their particular blend of cynicism, heart and crudeness. They would be difficult to improve upon, as this wrong-headed, unfunny "reboot" would indicate.

Rusty Griswold (the usually charming Ed Helms), scion of the traveling Griswolds, is all grown up. A pilot for a cut-rate airline, he has nevertheless built a nice life for himself. He's married to an intelligent, attractive woman (Christina Applegate), and they have a nice house in the suburbs and two thriving sons. One's a little socially awkward, and the younger one appears to be a nascent rapist-bro, but everybody has problems. Having decided that the family's annual trip to a cabin in Michigan is sucking the joy out of the family, Rusty plans a voyage into the past, taking the family on a road trip to Walley World. Not surprisingly, things start going wrong right out of the gate, both inside the plot and out here in the real world, where we are unfortunately witnessing this monstrosity.

The centerpiece is a sequence (shown in every trailer) wherein the family Griswold inadvertently swims in a cesspool. Not funny, you may be thinking, and you're right. It is however, the high water mark for the comedy on display here. Occasionally the brutal banter between the Griswold brothers almost rises to humor. One just hopes Helms, Applegate, Charlie Day and Ron Livingston were blackmailed into this. R. 99m.

— John J. Bennett


FANTASTIC FOUR. A reboot of Marvel's ensemble of scientists-turned-superheroes at war with their former colleague Dr. Doom. Starring Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara. PG13. 100m.

THE GIFT. Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall and Joel Edgerton star in a thriller about that awkward moment when an old acquaintance turns stalker and your shameful past threatens to resurface. R. 108m.

IRRATIONAL MAN. Joaquin Phoenix plays a miserable intellectual who forms a relationship with his beautiful young student, played by Emma Stone. Surprise! It's a Woody Allen movie. R. 95m.

MR. HOLMES. Ian McKellen plays the mythic detective late in life, combing his memory over an unsolved case with the help of a precocious boy. With Laura Linney and Milo Parker. PG. 105m.

SHAUN THE SHEEP. The wordless, woolly, stop-motion hero takes his farm-based escapades to the big city, aided by his flock and pursued by animal control. PG. 86m.


AMY. Brace yourself; this is gonna hurt. Asif Kapadia's heartbreaking documentary on Amy Winehouse follows the late singer's brief career, crushing fame and descent into self-medication and self-destruction without scolding or flinching. R. 128m.

ANT-MAN. Clever asides and Paul Rudd's likeability and subversive darkness almost distinguish this entertaining comic-book action flick from the rest of the Marvel machine. Supporting sidekick Michael Peña might be a comic genius. PG13. 117m.

INSIDE OUT. Pixar renders our inner lives and the tumult of growing up with clarity, charm, poignancy and humor through the personified emotions of a girl named Riley. With Amy Poehler. PG. 94m.

JURASSIC WORLD. A big, fun, well executed popcorn movie that sticks with dinosaur action thrills rather than convoluted plot. Like its star Chris Pratt, it doesn't take itself too seriously. PG13. 124m.

MINIONS. Sandra Bullock and John Hamm lend voices to the Despicable Me spin-off starring the goofy, Twinkie-esque henchmen. PG. 91m.

PAPER TOWNS. A trio of high school boys go on a mystery tour/spontaneity intensive when the enigmatic (and, duh, beautiful) girl next door vanishes. PG13. 109m.

PIXELS. Adam Sandler stars in this interplanetary war pic featuring classic arcade game characters. Spoiler alert: Pac-Man's kind of a jerk. PG13. 105m.

SOUTHPAW. Jake Gyllenhaal's intense, moving performance elevates this old-fashioned riches-to-rags story of a boxer trying to regain his daughter and his title. R. 123m.

TRAINWRECK. Amy Schumer stars with Bill Hader in this rom com that elevates the genre with funny, flawed leads and precision screwball construction and direction from Judd Apatow. R. 125m.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill


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John J. Bennett

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