By Lynn Venhaus

One thing about Tom Cruise: Love him or hate him, he is a consummate entertainer. And let’s face it, we’re sucked into Cruise’s World nearly every time he headlines an adventure trying to save the world.

If there is peril, he shows up. He knows how to throw himself to a rip-roaring yarn, as he has proven time and again. In yet another bold, brash move as Ethan Hunt, he pushed himself with death-defying stunts that are among the most dazzling in movie history in this seventh one, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.”

His Impossible Missions Force team must track down a dangerous weapon before it falls into the wrong hands. With control of the future and the fate of the world at stake, and dark forces from Ethan’s past closing in, a deadly race around the globe begins.

Now 61, Cruise was 57 when filming initially started, so give him credit for stretching himself physically, a remarkable feat. For a glimpse of the risky business — Exhibit 1: Motorcycle stunt on the edge of a cliff. My jaw dropped and my stomach flip-flopped when he freefalls.

That might not top the helicopter chase in “Fallout” (MI:6), also filmed by now head cinematographer Fraser Taggart, but it’s a dandy and among several terrifying set pieces including an extensive pulse-pounding pursuit through the streets of Rome and fights on aboard and on top of a speeding train (and not just any train, but THE Orient Express).

While not as emotionally impactful as Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” last year’s sequel to a 1986 film that proved to be more successful than anyone thought – I mean, 36 years later? — “MI 7” played to his strengths.

Because he exceeded expectations for making the 2022 top-grossing film of the year ($718,732,821, to be exact), and was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, there is a great deal of current goodwill. Some said he “saved Hollywood” by getting people into theaters post-pandemic. Let’s see if he repeats.

MI7 produces the thrills that define a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, but not the chills, and perhaps still will be a summer success after a few other tentpoles sputtered.

There is a sense of comfort in nostalgia. Like John Williams’ rousing Indiana Jones score, composer Lorne Balfe uses variations of Lalo Shifrin’s iconic TV series theme song to punctuate the action.

As with Harrison Ford returning as Indy, Cruise settles into another beloved familiar character, fearless American secret agent Ethan Hunt. Based on the Emmy-winning TV show (1966-1973) formula created by Bruce Geller, this covert Impossible Missions Force spans the globe fighting international terrorists in sophisticated ways.

After 27 years, we expect elaborate action and increasingly complicated high-tech plots. The first feature film directed by Brian De Palma was successful in 1996, its sequel stumbled in 2000 directed by John Woo, came back super-charged by director J.J. Abrams with Philip Seymour Hoffmann as a cunning villain in 2006, was even better in director Brad Bird’s “Ghost Protocol” in 2011, followed by what some say are the best ones in Christopher McQuarrie’s “Rogue Nation” in 2015 and “Fallout” in 2018. Now we have a long, dense follow-up in “Dead Reckoning,” a first part that is 2 hours and 43 minutes.

Hayley Atwell is the slippery Grace, Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt, world savior.

McQuarrie, who directed and co-wrote the script with Erik Jendresen, has been a consistent collaborator with Cruise during the 21st century. They first worked together on “Valkyrie” in 2008, followed by “Jack Reacher,” which he directed, and “Edge of Tomorrow.” That led to writing and directing the fifth and sixth ones, the first repeat director.

McQuarrie won the Oscar for his original screenplay “The Usual Suspects” in 1995 and was nominated last year for the adapted screenplay of “Top Gun: Maverick.”

The man who created Keyser Soze knows his way around criminal masterminds, but there’s a less than compelling one in sinister Gabriel, played by Esai Morales. He somehow is connected to the evil algorithm “The Entity,” which is so advanced it manipulates reality and the truth to cause endless chaos.

The menace is never-ending, although the enigmatic plot is dull. However, four interesting actresses shine in strong-willed roles: Hayley Atwell, Pom Klementieff and Vanessa Kirby, while Rebecca Ferguson returns for round three as MI6 operative Ilsa Faust.

Even with his energy and intensity, Cruise needs strong support, which he gets from the unsung heroes Simon Pegg as tech turned field agent Benji Dunn and Ving Rhames as wingman Luther Stickell.

Foe-turned-frenemy Atwell distinguishes herself as the slippery Grace. Since 2011, she has played beloved Peggy Carter, Captain America’s one true love, in all things Avenger-related in the Marvel universe (TV and film).

 Oscar-nominated Kirby returns as the mysterious White Widow from “Fallout,” still sketchy, and a ferocious Klementieff, Mantis in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, is cold-blooded assassin Paris.

It’s a stacked cast. Cary Elwes is CIA’s Denlinger and Henry Czerny, from the first movie,  is back as Kittredge, while Shea Wigham and Greg Tarzan Davis are agents Briggs and Degas hot on the trail.

Czerny, with his ace delivery, has the best line: “Your days of fighting for the so-called greater good are over. This is our chance to control the truth. The concepts of right and wrong for everyone for centuries to come. You’re fighting to save an ideal that doesn’t exist. Never did. You need to pick a side.”

It’s a very different global playing field from when they first launched the feature film. They’ve all been high-octane state-of-the-art thrillers, but this one is hyper-speed. Stunts aside, their mission has always been against shadowy figures hell-bent on ruthless power. Noble, sure, but do we care?

My main beef is that it’s not so much a nail-biter as it is an exercise in endurance. The mumbo-jumbo about “The Entity” gets ridiculous.

Yet, the adrenaline rush takes over viewing. Think of it as a summer sojourn to Cruise World. We are all pulled into his orbit. We’ll see what he’s up to next June, as no. 8 is set for June 28, 2024.

“Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part I” is a 2023 action-adventure directed by Christopher McQuarrie and starring Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Esai Morales, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Cary Elwes, Henry Czerny. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some language and suggestive material .and runs 2 hours and 43 minutes. It opens in theaters on July 12. Lynn’s Grade: B-.

By Alex McPherson

Featuring incredible stunts, timely themes, and an engaging, though imperfect balance between goofiness and sincerity, director Christopher McQuarrie’s “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1” is a reliably fun action-espionage blockbuster, if occasionally weighed down by inelegant plotting.

“Dead Reckoning,” the seventh installment in the “Mission” series, follows rebellious daredevil Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his loyal, idiosyncratic Impossible Mission Force comrades Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and love interest Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), as they embark on yet another death-defying mission to save humanity from itself.

They’re after two halves of a key that could allow them to destroy a rogue artificial-intelligence algorithm generically called “The Entity,” which has the power to upend civilization as we know it. Any and all global powers (including the CIA, led by Henry Czerny’s Eugene Kittridge, previously featured in the first “Mission” film) want to harness it for their own militaristic ends.

Despite its eye-rolling name, The Entity is an eerily prescient antagonist for Ethan and company to square off against — essentially the ultimate spy, able to infiltrate our always-online existence to control the nature of truth itself, plus, most likely, all the world’s weapons. Nowhere is safe from the Entity’s grasp.

The team’s plans are complicated with the unexpected arrival of courageous thief Grace (Hayley Atwell), walking a thin tightrope between friend and foe, who must eventually join sides with Ethan, along with the Entity’s human envoy, Gabriel (Esai Morales), a villainous ghost from Ethan’s past that contributed to him joining the Impossible Missions Force in the first place.

Also joining the fray is the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby, both seductive and goofy) from “Fallout,” and two frustrated U.S. agents always one step behind (Shea Whigham and Greg Tarzan Davis), who might or might not eventually shift their morals.

As the team embarks on a globe-trotting adventure in locales such as Rome and Norway, everyone is put to the test, and Ethan must reckon with saving those he loves over succeeding in his goals, all the while dealing with an unpredictable adversary that can seemingly predict his every move and turn his own gadgets against him. It can’t quite account for human ingenuity, or Ethan’s/Cruise’s unwavering commitment to putting themselves at risk for viewers’ entertainment.

Indeed, “Dead Reckoning” is, at times, a glorious spectacle — the practical stunt work on display puts the recent “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” to shame. With McQuarrie’s energetic direction and solid performances across the board, from Cruise especially, the latest “Mission” film delivers on the action front, though the twisty narrative lacks the visceral punch of the thunderously memorable set pieces.

And lordy, are those sequences invigorating to behold — filmed with a clarity by cinematographer Fraser Taggart that lets all the practical stunt work shine; largely eschewing CGI to forefront athleticism, which lends a (relatively speaking) grounded feel to the proceedings.

Lorne Balfe’s blaring score adds additional oomph. The much-publicized motorcycle-to-base-jump off the steep Norwegian mountainside is suitably spectacular, but a frantic chase through Rome — with Ethan and Grace handcuffed to each other driving a Fiat while being pursued by authorities and a sadistic killer named Paris (a scene-stealing Pom Klementieff) — is possibly the standout set-piece: full of bombastic slapstick comedy and split-second decision making that feels dangerous and thrilling. 

And the train showdown, holy moly, does not disappoint in the slightest, featuring edge-of-your-seat filmmaking that consistently ups the ante moment-to-moment as gravity begs to differ. Add to that a considerable helping of bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat (one brawl taking place in a narrow alley), and all the gratuitous running from Cruise we’ve come to expect, “Dead Reckoning” is worth watching for these scenes alone, bolstered by the cast’s commitment to this self-aware, somewhat messy tech-paranoia plot.

Hayley Atwell, Tom Cruise

Cruise continues to shine as Hunt, an ”agent of chaos” (as one character calls him) who’s willing to throw himself into danger for the greater good, but being forced to make impossible decisions to protect his friends and loved ones. Cruise’s portrayal lacks the emotional weight of his efforts in last year’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” but he still excels, nimbly navigating the film’s ludicrous plot developments and comedic relief with comforting self-awareness.

Pegg and Rhames provide equal parts comedic relief and pathos (grappling with the Entity’s manipulation of their advanced technology, such as the Entity impersonating their voices), while feeling underused and relegated to the background for most of the runtime. Ferguson is badass as always, as is Atwell, who lends spunk to her character of Grace and has palpable chemistry with Cruise. Grace takes on a pretty standard backstory/arc, yet is always fun to watch thanks to Atwell’s energy and inherent likability.

Morales is solid but unmemorable as the Entity’s henchman (even though McQuarrie tries his darndest to make us care from some rushed flashback revelations), and Klementieff deserves more screen time as a scarily ruthless assassin. The ensemble is always enjoyable — fully committed to the screenplay’s occasionally screwball rhythms — when all we’re really waiting for is the next harrowing spectacle to unfold. 

“Dead Reckoning” isn’t an all-out action film, however, and McQuarrie’s just as focused on the espionage narrative, which can’t live up in comparison, and lacks the creativity of the set pieces. The Entity is certainly a timely antagonist, but it remains difficult to care about much in the “Mission” universe because of the screenplay’s need to over-explain and “tell rather than show” regarding its capabilities, barring a couple memorable situations.

Although the film’s exposition-dumping approach is a staple of the genre, it lacks much emotional impact; the frequent flashbacks similarly try (and only half-heartedly succeed) to churn up investment, and the film’s constant forward momentum leaves little time for reflection, or opportunities to meaningfully dig into the psyches of its characters — even with a nearly three-hour runtime. 

To the screenplay’s credit, in a meta-textual sense, Cruise has also been a fierce defender of the cinematic experience, so Hunt’s battle against an evil algorithm could extend to Cruise’s own defense of practical stunts, the “theater experience,” and the increasingly bloated streaming ecosystem. Looking at “Dead Reckoning” from this angle makes the labyrinthine plot a touch more meaningful.

Despite these shortcomings, what really stands out about “Dead Reckoning” is the chutzpah of its creators. By the end of its runtime, it leaves an indelible impression as an achievement in action filmmaking. Regardless of storytelling stumbles, this is a must-watch on the biggest screen you can find — let’s just hope “Part 2” can deliver more on the character front.

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Simon Pegg, from left, Ving Rhames, Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in “Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning – Part One.” (Christian Black/Paramount Pictures and Skydance via AP)

“Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part I” is a 2023 action-adventure directed by Christopher McQuarrie and starring Tom Cruise, Haley Atwell, Esai Morales, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Cary Elwes, Henry Czerny. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some language and suggestive material .and runs 2 hours and 43 minutes. It opens in theaters on July 12. Alex’s Grade: B+.

By Lynn Venhaus

Equal parts salty, sweet, silly, sentimental, scary, and strange, this third chapter spotlighting freaky misfits saving the universe is a very busy mixed bag in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”

Legendary Star-Lord Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) leads his rag-tag team through life-and-death situations, all in superhero service of protecting good galactic folks under siege. This time, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) wants to rule the universe by controlling all living things. Sure, it’s a lofty goal, but many obstacles are in the way, and inevitably, there will be an epic battle between good and evil. (We’re not allowed to divulge much)

The best part of these grandiose Marvel Cinematic Universe series is the chemistry of the superheroes, and having this motley crew back together one more time has deepened their ties, softened their tough exteriors, and created playful exchanges that enhance what is a dense and convoluted story.

Earth-born Peter Quill leads a rascally turbo-charged group that includes a hulking Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista, who is endearing as a gentle giant), intuitive Mantis (Pom Klementieff, lively as a smart and sweet says-it-like-it-is sentinel), intimidating Nebula (Karen Gillan, whose bark is worse than her bite), the versatile tree monster Groot (voice of Vin Diesel, who is able to morph into a number of effective sizes and shapes), and a sarcastic racoon named Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper as a big-brained, no-nonsense warrior). Zoe Saldana returns as an alternate Gamora, which is better left unexplained (No spoilers from me).

Does anyone remember the plots other than bickering and banter between the Guardians, gnarly ginormous figures wreaking havoc, chaotic flights and fights through space, and clever needle drops that make characters shut up and dance?

This third outing is quite complicated: Rocket’s origin story, Ravagers show up with some key characters, and then a power-hungry maniacal villain called The High Evolutionary messes with species and is focused on wiping out civilization.

Merry band of misfits

The action, while often well-staged with choreographed slow-motion and quicksilver derring-do, has the usual repetitive litany of explosions, flying chunks of concrete, interstellar mayhem, and grotesque creatures to become mind-numbing. The film feels every bit of its 2 hours and 30 minutes run-time.

Director James Gunn, who co-wrote the script with his writing partners on the other two, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, has again stamped his devil-may-care attitude on this quirky comic book series, but also built up the found family theme

The elaborately designed spacecrafts and hub of activity known as the Knowhere outpost seem to layer on excessive visual effects.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 was a breath of fresh air in the superhero realm, and the second one in 2017 capitalized on the original’s charm, laying on the kitchy pop culture. While Gunn retains his puckish sense of adventure, he has added more emotional beats this time around.

Newcomers include Will Poulter as Adam Warlock and Elizabeth Debicki as his mother Ayesha, characters introduced in the comics but not explained well here, and Maria Bakalova is the voice of the funny Cosmo the space dog. And Chukwudi Iwuji makes an impression as the flamboyant mad scientist who goes increasingly over the top.

For this final time, Pom Klementieff as Mantis and Dave Bautista as Drax are the standouts, creating a delightful comical dynamic.

But one of the bigger missteps is that this film is rated PG-13, for there are many elements that will frighten youngsters, especially about animals in cages.

The movie starts rather raggedy but ends with genuine emotional beats, and staying through the credits is a must. Also, it helps to be familiar with the other two.

When this overstuffed finale is hitting the right notes, it’s an earnest tug on the heartstrings, but because the story so often shifts tones and is stretched so thin – too many people! – overall, it’s frustrating.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is a 2023: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Action, Adventure film directed by James Gun and starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Sean Gunn and Maria Bakalova
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references, and thematic elements and run time is 2 hours, 30 minutes. Opens in theaters May 5. Lynn’s Grade: C+

Will Poulter as Adam Warlock

By Lynn Venhaus
When husband-and-wife collaborators Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy work together on screen, a low bar has been set, for their previous four movies together had little to redeem them. Yet “Thunder Force,” while just barely a cut above the others, has its moments.

And only a few, for “Thunder Force” is a hodge-podge of tone, temperament and style that squanders opportunities to boost its likability. The strongest aspect is the cast, who looks like they are having fun indulging in all the silliness.

And there is plenty of that, along with slapstick and repetitive gags. Maybe the jokes don’t all land, but let’s keep hammering them again and again just in case people will finally ‘get’ them.      

In a world terrorized by super villains, scientist Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) has developed a way to give regular people superpowers. That happens to her estranged best friend Lydia Berman (Melissa McCarthy), who is injected with super strength, when she is poking around. Emily can become invisible. These powers, to be used for good, can protect their city from evil. But can Thunder Force save Chicago from these Miscreants?                            

After the disappointing “Tammy” in 2014 and the unwatchable “Life of the Party” in 2018, (I skipped “The Boss” in 2016),  one wonders why writer-director Falcone still gets to helm projects with his Oscar-nominated wife McCarthy but in November, they presented another lackluster high concept “Superintelligence” on HBOMax and now the forced “Thunder Force” on Netflix.

McCarthy is playing the same character that she has milked for laughs since her breakout role in “Bridesmaids” in 2011 – an uncouth loudmouth slob who beats to her own drummer. The common thread there, along with “The Heat,” “Spy” and “Ghostbusters,” is director Paul Feig, who knows how to reign in her penchant for absurd riffs.

Feig’s direction is disciplined, unlike her husband of 16 years, who lets her go on and on and on – singing random pop songs, doing goofy impressions and just making a good punchline less amusing by not knowing when to stop. 

Why does she stay in her comfort zone when we know she is capable of much more — the Oscar-nominated “Can You Forgive Me?” and an Emmy as host of “Saturday Night Live” in 2017 (and that hilarious Sean Spicer impression)?

The Falcones met doing improvisational sketch comedy at The Groundlings in L.A., and I think their strength is humor in short doses. This movie is like a “SNL” sketch that has gone on far too long.

Apparently, McCarthy and Spencer met during that time, and have been real-life BFFs since then. But you would not know of their connection by the way the relationship is framed in the film.

Emily is a brain who devotes all her time to her work, with little time for frivolity. Lydia is a lonely hard-drinking forklift operator. Neither of them are endearing as good friends, thrown together in school as misfits, but neither is the loyal true-blue friend they should be.

So, they magically team up again after years of estrangement?

The plot holes don’t help. The Miscreants are former borderline sociopaths empowered by interstellar rays in the early ‘80s into super-villains who wreak havoc on the streets of Chicago.

Laser, played by “The Guardians of Galaxy” breakout Pom Klementieff dressed as a dominatrix, hurls blue bolts for destruction.

The thug-boss mayor, played over-the-top by – of course – Bobby Cannavale, referred to as “The King,” and is straight out of Gotham City’s playbook, appearing like a cartoon buffoon in “Batman Returns.”

Falcone also plays one of his henchmen, and after unfortunate skin tasering, has a running gag on how the unsightly scabs appear on his face. Once was enough but the fact it’s repeated is indicative of this hot mess.

And Oscar winner Melissa Leo is totally wasted in a tough-lady operative role.

Now, for the good parts. Jason Bateman, who worked with McCarthy in “Identity Thief” in 2013, is a half-creant, with crab pincer claws as arms. Inexplicably, The Crab and Lydia are drawn to each other (and there is a foreplay scene with drawn butter and Old Bay seasoning). You can tell he’s just slumming, and that’s OK because he knows how to deliver one-liners in a deadpan way. and has a gift for comic timing.

This film, however, belongs to the younger ladies. In flashback, McCarthy’s daughter Vivian Falcone plays her in middle school – and is terrific – and Bria Danielle Singleton is strong as young Emily. They could have had a whole movie developed around them, and that would have been OK, preferable to the middle-age edition.

That said, the jokes about hefty middle-age women in spandex suits and entering and exiting a sports car are funny and relatable.

Taylor Mosby is winning as Emily’s daughter Tracy.

The fact that this movie wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but it was enjoyable in spurts.

“Thunder Force” is an action comedy directed and written by Ben Falcone. It stars Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer, Bobby Cannavale, Jason Bateman, Taylor Mosby. Melissa Leo and Pom Klementieff. Rated PG-13 for some action/violence, language and mild suggestive material, the run time is: 1 hour, 46 minutes. The film is available on Netflix beginning April 9. Lynn’s Grade: D+