For an action movie to win the heart, it should be thrilling, clever, or in the very least, active. Amazingly, M:I-2 is a creature I never thought I’d encounter, a boring John Woo picture. The director of such hits as Face/Off, Broken Arrow and many hyperkinetic Honk Kong flicks, Woo has a keen enough grasp on the ballet of vengeance to instill a confidence in me that M:I-2 was going to give my eyeballs a thorough servicing, and my brain a break. If I were a tooth fetishist or in love with Tom Cruise’s hair, then I would consider myself serviced, but, alas, I am not.

In M:I-2, the mission involves capturing the monster chemical weapon “Chimera,” a deadly virus mutated from a possible influenza cure. This time around, the plot has lost the group dynamics and clever writing that distinguished the television show, and, to a lesser extent, the first movie. These have been replaced with rock climbing, facemask stunts, motorcycle joisting, and the film’s real star, Tom Cruise’s wavy locks. The steely military crop top of Mission: Impossible has been replaced with a midlength flop, like the one glamorized by Jan-Michael Vincent and Kurt Loder. Whatever slow motion, fire-rimmed act Woo creates, the camera is there to capture the nuances of Mr. Cruise’s hair’s performance. Numerous lady friends have confided to me openly and in awed tones about their respect for the hair’s performance. It’s an act the masses can appreciate, and no doubt Mr. Cruise’s whiter-than-thou smile will fuel many a fantasy for weeks to come.

This is not to say a $130 million, two-hour Paul Mitchell commercial with Tom Cruise isn’t worth the $7 admittance fee. If there is anyone in the world besides Tom Cruise who would warrant the kind of buzz this movie has received, then Hollywood has not unearthed him. Unfortunately, Cruise cannot save the film from its tinny dialogue, most of which is delivered through earpieces and hidden microphones. I am convinced there never was a script; the producers just paid Robert Towne, the highly respected writer of Chinatown, to slap his name on an outline around which Woo staged his amazing stunts.

At first, Dougray Scott, who plays villain Sean Ambrose seemed up to the task of competing with Cruise’s Ethan Hunt for the affections of the eye-poppingly fetching Nyah Hall, played by Flirting and Beloved‘s Thandie Newton. Nyah is introduced as a beautiful, clever, and independent thief who ends up doing nothing but slinking around sullenly in a child-sized T-shirt with no bra. Why waste a third of the film setting up a character that becomes no more than helpless eye candy, needing to be rescued by a man? I’m waiting for the day Jane Campion gets to direct one of these huge action vehicles so we get a chance to meet a powerful, self-determined female hero.

Towards the end of M:I-2, Ambrose becomes a blubbering fool when he notices he’s lost the girl to Hunt’s teeth. He had to see it coming: American white teeth and leather jacket equals good guy who gets the girl. Scottish brown teeth and stonewashed denim jacket equals creep who gets filled with lead. Due to the extensive re-shooting required to finish the film, Dougray Scott also lost out on the big prize. The actor had been slated to play the awesome Marvel comic book character Wolverine in this summer’s true blockbuster event movie X-MEN, but missed the chance due to scheduling conflicts with M:I-2.

In an obvious attempt to create a James Bond-like franchise, the producers of M:I-2 have abandoned all similarities to the television series. There’s little relating to the first Mission: Impossible either, except for the spy hero, Ethan Hunt, and Ving Rhames’ computer wizard Luther Stickell. Since Rhames is the only actor with whom Cruise has any chemistry, it’s too bad he remains stuck in a van smacking a computer, and hanging out of a helicopter shooting machine guns and regurgitating the stock black-guy line, “Oooo, I’m mad now.” Even Mission: Impossible‘s beloved theme song has been overproduced and cheapened by Limp Bizkit’s incoherent rendering.

A mediocre movie that happens to be blessed with 30 minutes of incredible John Woo hyperstylized, slow motion pigeon violence, M:I-2 is not a complete waste of celluloid. The carefully choreographed car-mating ritual and sophisticated acrobatics a la The Matrix are top notch. M:I-2 just relies too heavily on the Woo-ish notion of interchangeability of the face/mask/identity that he exploited in Face/Off. It’s all retread; even the plot is an amalgam of the last 11 James Bond flicks: Sneering bobo has killer virus. He will exterminate the population of Sydney if he doesn’t get billions of dollars and, in a “contemporary” twist, stock options.

At its Hollywood core, M:I-2 provides a perfect example of what producers come up with when they don’t have any additional stars to put around the bread and butter. They stick Tom Cruise masks on everybody and Band-Aids on their Adam’s apples to give them that nasally Tom Cruise sound. The problem with the masks is that the script doesn’t offer a half-baked, sci-fi excuse as to how they work. Is one sentence about a hologram or liquid spray-on vapor too much to ask? Or are the masks just magical skin latex things that conform to anyone’s features and can sweat and bleed, and have eyeballs and superhuman white teeth, not to mention the best damn hairplugs in the history of wig art? At one point, I was pulling for the delicious Thandie Newton to rip off her face and be Tom Cruise, so Tom Cruise’s hair would get a chance to make out with Tom Cruise’s teeth. It would have made an honest climax to a long film. EndBlock