Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (PG-13) ★★½

Review Date: December 16th, 2011

Paramount Pictures' Mission: Impossible franchise is a rare phenomenon. Few film series based on properties as old as it is have retained such relevance in the modern movie market, and few take as long a break in between installments, making each new entry a highly anticipated event. Such is the case with Ghost Protocol, the fourth in fifteen years starring Tom Cruise as super-agent Ethan Hunt. Adding to the hoopla surrounding the holiday release is the fact that it marks the live-action directorial debut of Brad Bird, the Pixar wunderkind responsible for Oscar-winning hits The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Unfortunately, I feel that the animation auteur had too much to prove in his first physical outing and tried a bit too hard to thrill, resulting in a film that plays more like John Woo's over-the-top M:I:II than Brian de Palma's suspenseful original.

The plot essentially kicks off when a bomb blasts a hole the size of a football field in the Kremlin (Russia's most important government facility) while Hunt and his team of IMF agents (Paula Patton and Simon Pegg) attempt to extract a nuclear detonation device from the fortress before a mysterious figure known only as Cobalt can get to it first. The problem: Cobalt has gotten to it first, and frames Hunt and company for the bombing, causing the U.S. President to enact ''Ghost Protocol,'' which disbands the IMF and disavows its soldiers. Knowing that the theft of the device, and a batch of codes that enable it to be used prior to this event, means that Cobalt surely intends to start World War III, the agents go rogue to retrieve the components and bring the terrorist to justice.

Like the fore mentioned bomb blast, Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec's script is devastating, leaving scattered pieces of information all over the place and making it hard for the story to truly find its footing. Expository plot points are dropped in way after they're needed or wanted, messing with the pace of the movie on more than one occasion. Perhaps their biggest crime is crafting a lame villain with little presence in the picture. After the intensity that Phillip Seymour Hoffman brought to his antagonist in M:I:III, Michael Nyqvist's quiet and composed Hendricks just isn't convincing enough as a true threat. On the other hand, Bird's direction is anything but composed.

While his use of IMAX cameras is quite breathtaking when filming the much-publicized Burj Khalifa climb and other notable set pieces, as stated before his approach to the material seemed to be "let's make every action sequence as ludicrous as we can." I realize that MIGP is a holiday blockbuster designed to get audiences blood pumping, but I've always found that action films work best when they operate (mostly) within the confines of reality. That's clearly not the case here, where Hunt drives perfectly through a blinding sandstorm without causing much collateral damage and nosedives a Volkswagen off of a 30-foot drop and lives to save the day.

Still, it's all in the name of fun, and he does manage to create an entertaining dynamic between his IMF agents. Patton is totally passable as Jane Carter, an agent seeking revenge for the murder of her cohort and apparent beau Hanaway (Josh Holloway), while Pegg, returning as Benji the tech-geek from the preceding film, has been promoted to field agent and is without question the movie's saving grace. Though his comic relief is relied heavily upon, it's absolutely welcomed. The biggest surprise is Jeremy Renner, who was supposedly brought in to take the reigns of the franchise, but is pretty stale as Brandt. He never elevates his character to the level of coolness that Cruise has maintained throughout the years, and doesn't provide anything significant other than assistance. Given the talent that we all know he possesses, his negligible contribution was a bigger let down than the film itself.

Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.