”Press any button to begin. Press the green button for more options. Press the red button to cancel….”
Tom Cruise is leaning out the window of his Porsche, mumbling the instructions for paying the parking fee at the entrance to the Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades. ”This isn’t working,” he decides after pushing every button on the ticket dispenser. ”This is getting way too complicated. This thing doesn’t make any sense.”
What a harsh reality check. The guy who dangled from a cable to crack a CIA vault in the first Mission: Impossible movie — and who bungee-jumps out of a helicopter to bust into a biotech lab in Mission: Impossible 2 — can’t even infiltrate a parking lot. ”I can’t figure this thing out,” he mutters sheepishly, trying to shove his credit card into the ticket dispenser. ”It must be broken.”
It was Cruise’s idea to meet here at the Will Rogers Park, a quiet 186-acre sanctuary not far from the house he and his wife, Nicole Kidman, keep in Los Angeles. ”I thought it’d be nice to get some fresh air,” he explains. ”I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to just be outside and breathe. You know, it’s a pretty hectic time for me.”
Oh, we know. After three years of toiling on artsier projects (spending 19 months shooting Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, delivering an Oscar-nominated performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia), Cruise is back in the popcorn-munching mainstream. In fact, his $90 million M:I sequel, costarring Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, and Ving Rhames, may be the most action-driven film of his career. Certainly it’s the first to feature Cruise hanging by his fingertips from a 2,000-foot cliff, popping frontal wheelies during a high-speed motorcycle chase, or blasting bad guys with a gun in each hand.
And all of the above — especially the blasting-bad-guys-with-a-gun-in-each-hand part — unspools in the ballistically balletic style of John Woo, the Hong Kong import who’s currently the hottest action auteur in Hollywood. ”This is more John Woo’s movie than it is mine,” offers M:I-2’s 37-year-old star (and coproducer along with business partner Paula Wagner), and he’s not just being polite. Every slo-mo, bullet-riddled, flying-pigeon-filled frame of this film bears Woo’s unmistakable imprint. ”I call it John Woo’s Mission: Impossible,” Cruise half-jokes.
Of course, in some ways it’s still the same old Mission, spun out of the same old 1960s TV show. Once again Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, the gadget-packing spy who works for the ultrasecret Impossible Mission Force (although now his boss is played by an uncredited Anthony Hopkins, who gets the best line: ”Well, this is not Mission: Difficult, Mr. Hunt, it’s Mission: Impossible”). It’s still got that same jazzy Lalo Schifrin theme music perking up the soundtrack (lovingly reinterpreted by rap-metallers Limp Bizkit). And, naturally, it’s got a corkscrew plotline that twists through sundry exotic locales (Australia, Spain, the Rocky Mountains) and involves lots of people reaching behind their necks to peel off fake rubber faces — only this time, mercifully, the story line has been simplified just enough so that you won’t need your 12-year-old nephew to explain it to you afterward.