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Mission: Irrelevant

Sure, you can upgrade a TV series to the big screen -- but why bother?

But Ethan Hunt's superior (Henry Czerny in an amusingly fussy performance) falls for the charade. Worse, he figures some member of the IMF team must be a double agent. And Ethan is his most likely suspect.

Predictably, Ethan decides to clear his name and track down the real culprit with the help of his very own Impossible Mission team: Krieger (Jean Reno), a burly breaking-and-entering expert; Luther (Ving Rhames of Pulp Fiction), a looming computer hacker; and Claire (Beart), the beautiful and feisty wife of Mr. Phelps himself. (Forget the passionate embrace shared by Cruise and Beart in the movie's coming-attractions trailer -- it's nowhere to be seen in the finished film.) These guys take part in a really impossible mission, one that involves an unauthorized entry into CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It also involves a few too many scenes in which characters stare intently at flickering computer screens. (What did the writers of spy thrillers do before the invention of PCs and laptops?) The actual break-in is genuinely suspenseful. But the movie's climax, set aboard the aforementioned high-speed train, is something of a disappointment. Despite Cruise's game efforts, he looks like -- well, like someone who's braving nothing more dangerous than the gusts of a wind machine on a movie sound stage. Which only serves to underscore one of the major pitfalls of making big-budget, summer-season extravaganzas: sometimes, even the most expensive camera trickery cannot avoid appearing transparently fake.

Brian De Palma (Carrie, The Untouchables) is listed as the director of Mission: Impossible, though the movie is notably lacking in the visual flamboyance that is typical of his work. It's probably worth noting that he and Cruise (who doubled as co-producer) reportedly clashed while determining the final cut of the movie. It should also be noted that De Palma was a last-minute, unexplained no-show at the recent Los Angeles press junket to launch Mission. This, trust me, is not a good sign.

Whoever had the final say over what is the movie deserves credit for a pleasingly cheeky touch: Vanessa Redgrave, cast as an international arms merchant, turns into a shameless flirt each time she's around the much younger Cruise. And Cruise, clearly enjoying himself, flirts right back. The few scenes that they share are wittier -- and, yes, sexier -- than anything else in the movie. Now that is a special effect.

Mission: Impossible. Directed by Brian De Palma. With Tom Cruise, Jon Voight and Emmanuelle Beart. Rated PG-13. 109 minutes.

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