‘Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ Hits an Action Bull’s-Eye

Look, they don’t call it “Mission Impossible” for nothing.

“Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol” — the fourth in a series of “Mission Impossible” movies — features rampant action, scenes that either are physically impossible, highly unlikely or downright ridiculous.

But that’s just what we want in a “Mission Impossible” movie, and director Brad Bird — best know for animated movies such as “The Incredibles” and “Iron Giant” — serves up a “Mission” edition that delivers the action-packed goods. Along with star Tom Cruise – and a worthy supporting cast – Bird ensures that this “Mission” flies through some of the year’s most compelling action.

The movie’s best set piece takes place on the glass wall of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, a 2,700-foot-high skyscraper. I’m squeamish about heights, so this tense bit of business was strictly a white-knuckle experience for me. Still, it’s indicative of the kind of a crackerjack action that Bird strings around a serviceable story about a lunatic general (Michael Nyqvist) who wants to start a nuclear war.

Joining Cruise’s Ethan Hunt on a mission aimed at stopping nuclear Armageddon are Paula Patton (as a highly competent IMF agent); Simon Pegg (as the agent with tech skills) and Jeremy Renner (as an assistant to the IMF secretary played by Tom Wilkinson).

Renner — scorchingly good in both “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town” — gets to show another side of himself. The rest of the crew is in equally good form.

Watch for Lea Seydoux, as a deadly blonde assassin, who ultimately winds up duking it out with Patton’s character. Hey, the movie’s supply of gadgets and high-tech wonders are pretty impressive, too.

Cruise’s main function here is to take a variety of beatings and keep on ticking. Whether he’s scaling the walls of skyscrapers or leaping onto moving vehicles, Cruise portrays Ethan with old-pro efficiency. It’s almost as if he understands that he’s playing second fiddle to the action, and has no problem with it.

The screenplay, which tries for a bit of emotion with a backstory involving Ethan’s late wife, doesn’t skimp on locations, taking us to places as far flung as Moscow and Dubai. It also makes good use of the powerhouse presentation that IMAX offers. (The film will be released at non-IMAX theaters staring Dec. 21.)

Despite its near-maniacal commitment to efficiency – cramming as much action into every scene as possible – “Ghost Protocol” knows it’s also supposed to be fun, and it is. (It makes for an interesting contrast with this week’s other franchise release, “Sherlock Holmes.” That movie seems to know it’s silly; this one is absolutely earnest in its commitment to action, refusing to waste time trying to put tongue in cheek.)

There are moments when “Ghost Protocol,” like most action-heavy thrillers, threatens to wear out its welcome, but it never really does. This is one “Mission” fans should have no trouble accepting.

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