Reel Dad: Once again, Tom Cruise makes it work

Ethan Hunt has come a long way.

In the 22 years since this mild-mannered secret agent first saved the world in the big screen reboot of the television series, Ethan has grown from being a restless and rebellious young man determined to right many wrongs to an older and wiser rogue who still tries to save even one life. Of course, time has been kind to this man who, in the form of Tom Cruise, hardly seems to have aged a day. But Ethan does carry the weight of the past on his shoulders. And a $3 billion movie franchise.

Fortunately, the makers of the sixth Mission: Impossible installment (thank goodness they stopped numbering the episodes at number three) know what makes these movies work. Gone are the ambitious plotlines that plagued installments two and four — with Cruise battling mysterious villains and complex stories — or the conflicts over marital bliss that weighed down the third film. This time, Fallout’s slight narrative actually connects to the previous episode to give the series some much-needed continuity. Even if a logical plot is not what we go to the movies expecting to experience.

What makes Mission: Impossible work on screen is, of course, Tom Cruise. Since first charming his way through the initial film — outsmarting the CIA and Vanessa Redgrave — Cruise has made Ethan an everyday hero who wants to be known as much for being a nice guy as for ridding the world of the bad guys. As this sixth episode begins, Ethan doesn’t think twice about putting the world in peril so he can save loyal partners Luther (again the delightful Ving Rhames) and Benji (recreated with ease by Simon Pegg). But such choices create problems for his IMF boss (the watchable Alec Baldwin) and CIA leader (the reliable Angela Bassett) who hatch competing efforts to capture some runaway plutonium before the bad guys get the chance to deploy nuclear weapons. Oh, in case you were wondering, there’s also a reckless villain trying to cause trouble, too.

The plot is incidental. And most of the characters. What makes the film thrill are the visuals that excite at every turn, from a chase through Paris (a striking homage to the classic chase in The French Connection) to a chase through London (with informal salute to Jason Bourne) to the climactic finale that would make James Bond proud. And these sequences work because Cruise injects the character with just enough humanity without letting the character’s soul get in the way of the action. After all, this is not Ibsen’s Mission: Impossible. Fallout is an over-the-top action film that entertains at every turn.

Someday, Tom Cruise may be too old to play Ethan. But writer-director Christopher McQuarrie cleverly refers to the actor’s maturity without dwelling on his age. And he makes sure that Cruise never breaks a sweat, no matter the demands, regardless of the danger. After all, Ethan Hunt saves the world on screen thanks to Tom Cruise. And, some weekends, that’s all we need to know.

Film Nutritional Value — Mission: Impossible Fallout

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is rated PG-13 for “violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language.” The film runs 2 hours and 27 minutes. 4 Popcorn Buckets.

21 Jump Street: An Unlikely Movie Treat

Now and then a film gets cooked with the least likely ingredients and a recipe for disappointment. But something magical happens in the cinema kitchen to create a surprising movie treat that makes us laugh even if much of the humor is tasteless.

On paper, the comedy 21 Jump Street looked as promising as a reheated television show, perhaps because that’s where the movie came from. When least creative, moviemakers saturate audiences with adaptations of the tube, from The A Team to Get Smart, Bewitched and The Brady Bunch. So how could a long-forgotten police series from the late 1980s become so much fun on the big screen?

Leave it to Jonah Hill, the Oscar nominee for Moneyball, to score a knock-out comic punch as the star and co-writer of this inventive, outrageous and ultimately touching human comedy. While the old television show is only remembered for launching Johnny Depp’s career, the movie version is more difficult to forget. Few of the recent adult comedies – in the spirit of The Hangover and Bridesmaids – develop as authentic a central relationship as Hill portrays with the equally endearing Channing Tatum. Together they create a memorable duo that takes us back to Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting. The difference is you could invite the whole family to that movie, but not this one.

On film, 21 Jump Street uses the television premise as a foundation for hilarity.  Hill and Tatum play high school classmates – who didn’t like each other – who later reconnect at the police academy. They become good friends who help each other through the rigors of training. After a disastrous start on the force, they are assigned to go undercover at their old high school to infiltrate a drug ring. But it’s no picnic to return to an alma mater where the social mores have changed.

This set up gives Hill and co-writer Michael Bacall open license to create a view of high school life, from the impact of social media and cell phones to the influence of peers and the popularity of musical theater. And while parents may hope they paint an exaggerated picture, the writers are clever enough to reveal moments of truth. No matter what tools students use, gossip hurts, kids can be mean, and parents can try to manage too many details. By focusing just enough on how life can be on a suburban campus, Hill and Bacall exaggerate what we would hope it never becomes.

Of course, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are too sassy and savvy to let messages occupy too much screen time. This is a movie party and they are serving refreshments. But while 21 Jump Street may come from television, it will never be shown, without editing, on a broadcast channel. This is not a family film even though its ultimate moral, of people reaching outside themselves to help others, is more touching than such comedies usually serve.

Grounding the film is Hill’s engaging performance as Schmidt, the ignored academic who longs for popular acceptance. No matter how wild the comedy, Hill refuses to shortchange how the character develops. That’s quite an accomplishment in a film filled with as much outrageous humor as its 109 minutes can handle. Hill reminds us that character is the most important ingredient to comedy no matter the source or strength of the concept.

21 Jump Street is rated R for content, language, drug material, teen drinking and violence. The film runs 109 minutes.