REVIEW: ‘Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One’

It’s at its best when it’s most like a 1928 silent comedy called 'Speedy'

Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One / Paramount Pictures
July 17, 2023

The new Mission Impossible movie is called Dead Reckoning Part One, and it’s about a rogue Artificial Intelligence Chatbot Thingy that can only be kept from ruling the world by two keys. Tom Cruise and his team are looking for the keys while the rogue A.I. tries to keep them from finding the keys. What I have just done here is summarize a plot that is almost literally incomprehensible, so you’re welcome. But then, I deserve no thanks, because who sees a Mission Impossible movie for the plot? You see a Mission Impossible movie because it gloms together a bunch of choreographed action sequences and uses a bunch of argle-bargle dialogues to serve as glue.

Dead Reckoning is fine. It’s not great. The problem is that the action scenes aren’t as dazzling as the ones in the last two in the series, Rogue Nation and Fallout. Cruise and his collaborator on these movies, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, seem to know they struck gold with Fallout, which deserves consideration as the best sheer action picture ever made, and they don’t really try to outdo it. The new movie’s biggest stunt—which features Cruise driving off a 10,000-foot high cliff in the Alps on a motorcycle—just doesn’t measure up to the sight of him in Fallout jumping out of a plane at 30,000 feet. What could?

I mean, I feel bad for Cruise, because he just wants to make our jaws drop. And they do—look, the guy actually drives a motorcycle off a cliff right in front of our eyes, for God’s sake—but it’s just a fact that they dropped more the last time.

The cleverest choice Cruise and McQuarrie made here was going smaller rather than larger. That’s the case with this movie’s car chase, which takes place around Rome rather than Fallout’s Paris. Cruise and his costar, the enchanting Hayley Atwell, are handcuffed together in an ancient, tiny, canary-yellow Fiat with a supercharged motor. Because the handcuffs are on his left wrist and her right, she’s the one who must drive in and around and past Italian cops, American spies, and a crazy woman in the employ of the A.I., who’s driving a giant military vehicle.

Atwell’s character is not a trained Impossible Missions Force operative; she’s just an ordinary pickpocket. And so Cruise must direct her through Rome traffic and down the Spanish Steps in a state of dire and impotent panic while she wears a priceless expression of sheer terror on her face. What results is a wildly unexpected and brilliantly funny scene that could have appeared in a silent comedy. In fact, there’s almost exactly such a sequence in Harold Lloyd’s Speedy, made in 1928, in which Lloyd is tasked with driving Babe Ruth (yes, the real Bambino) to Yankee Stadium from midtown Manhattan in time to play the game. (You can see the scene here.)

The Little Fiat That Could arrives an hour into the picture, which is not when you want the high-water moment of your action movie to happen. You want it near the end, like Fallout’s jaw-dropping final 15 minutes, in which two helicopters duke it out in the mountains of Afghanistan. In Dead Reckoning, the climactic set piece involves a runaway train with Cruise duking it out with the elegant Esai Morales. They punch each other and duck when the switching towers zoom by. Then they punch each other and flatten out when the train goes into a tunnel. It’s well-staged, but I just saw the same scene three weeks ago in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. (Here’s an uncomfortable fact for you: The greatest action-train scene ever made is in a movie nobody saw and that is now a permanent scandal. That’s The Lone Ranger, featuring alleged cannibal fantasist Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp playing Tonto.) And truth to tell, I saw a better action movie this year in John Wick 4.

There’s going to be a part 2 of Dead Reckoning. It will also be about the keys and the A.I. Only this time, if I read the tea leaves correctly, Cruise is going to go into space somehow and do something. If that does happen, he’ll be back on top. Unless Keanu does it first.

Published under: Movie Reviews