Why does MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT work so well?

I’m no fan of Tom Cruise, so it takes a lot to (a) part with hard currency to to watch a Cruise film and (b) publicly admit how much that film rocks.

He did it with EDGE OF TOMORROW, one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. I could watch that thing every day, and the more you dislike Cruise, the better the movie actually works.

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: Cruise did the impossible again with MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT.

Why is this movie so good when the last Bond movie bored me to bits, despite my utter fandom for Daniel the Craig?

(1) Practical stunts beat the snot out of CGI nonsense

Yes, CGI is expensive, and it can create amazing spectacles.

Yet we’re used to it. The wow factor is gone.

When I see a hero take on a CGI monster, it doesn’t scare me at all.

Practical stunts, where real people do really dangerous things, still impress people. And this movie is packed with them.

(2) Surprises on top of surprises

Thrillers are about betrayals, secrets, revelations and surprises.

Action scenes are only a bonus, dessert after the starters and main.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT gives the audience action scenes where the action is simply a setup for a betrayal, revelation or surprise. It’s a great way to move the story forward.

(3) Ruthless editing

This movie clocks in at two hours and 28 minutes. It doesn’t feel half that long.

How did the director and editor pull that off?

They ruthlessly cut the boring parts. Putting together a list of Scenes that Are Always Boring would require an entire post, though it would include Two Characters Talking as One Character Drives and my favorite, the Hero Types on a Computer.

The shorter, easier list is Scenes that Are Always Exciting, and that world champions on that list are (a) chases and (b) fights.

So if you make a movie that’s 90 percent chases and fights, with betrayals and surprises after every chase or fight, yeah, it’s going to be fast and fun. The trick is to avoid repetition. As a big fan of cheesy ’80s action movies, including everything Jackie Chan, Arnold and Jean Claude Van Damme ever made, I testify to the fact that most action movies believe, deep in their explosive souls, that the only way to mix things up for your audience is to multiply the number of bad guys facing our hero until the climax, when the producer has to bus in hundreds of extras and run the costume shop 24/7 to stitch up enough Expendable Bad Guy coveralls so they hero can wade through them all on his way to the Big Bad Guy.

That’s not to say there aren’t cliches and silly tropes in this movie. I pray to whichever gods that are listening, please, please stop Hollywood writers and directors from ever using stolen nuclear warheads as a plot device. I beg you. And the revelation that Clark Kent with a Beard is actually a bad guy came way too early for me.

But the nuclear MacGuffin in this movie doesn’t really matter. What puts us in those theater seats are the chases, fights and stunts, which are all spectacular. Well done, Tom the Cruise–now give us a sequel to EDGE OF TOMORROW.

ONE SHOT by Lee Child

The library in my secret lair contains Every Thriller Known to Man, including every Lee Child thriller, so reviewing his novels is like riding a bicycle for me.

A bicycle with two seats and training wheels. And a chauffeur.

So let’s make one thing clear, right off: Lee Child is the best thriller writer alive.

one shot lee child
The original cover for ONE SHOT by Lee Child.

Also, Lee is British, though he lives in NYC these days, so he’s got this killer accent to go along with the killer books about Reacher.

ONE SHOT is one of his better books. It’s not THE ENEMY, which is his best. But it’s not one of his worst, and his worst are still good.

Here’s the setup: Reacher is a loner. Six-foot-five. Two-fifty. A giant. He’s some kind of hotshot ex-Army major from the military police, and when you’re investigating bad guys for doing bad things and every suspect is a trained killer, you’ve got to be tougher than they are.

Reacher is plenty tough. And smart. He’s like putting the brain of Sherlock Holmes into the body of Dolph Lundgren, and then giving Dolph another twenty pounds of muscle.

It’s almost unfair to the bad guys. But that’s a post for another day.

ONE SHOT takes Reacher to Indiana, where an Army sniper he arrested years ago in Kuwait, for killing four men, has apparently gone bad again, 14 years later. Except when the sniper is arrested, he asks for Reacher, by name. Because they’ve got the wrong guy, he says. This is despite a rock-solid case against the man, Barr: his rifle did the shooting. Five people are dead. The police have his minivan on tape, driving to the parking garage where it happened. And back in Kuwait, he’d also used a parking garage.

Reacher shows up to keep a promise, a promise meant to keep Barr in line. But he discovers nothing is what it seems. The case it a little too good. There’s a puppet master, pulling the strings, who doesn’t want Reacher asking questions.

Without giving the ending away, it’s a rock-solid thrill ride. Are there plot holes? Yeah, sure. You have to suspend disbelief, especially looking back at the first chapter. There’s a huge gamble there. It’s kind of cheating.

But you don’t care, because it’s too much fun watching Reacher in action. He’s not your typical thriller hero. He’s not suave. He’s not sophisticated. He’s completely rough around the edges, and he doesn’t use spy gadgets or fancy guns. The only thing he carries from place to place is a folding toothbrush.

one shot lee child new cover
The new cover of Lee Child’s ONE SHOT. Is it better than the original? Yes.

So, on to the numbers.

Number of beautiful women: Four. An ex-flame who’s now a brigadier general at the Pentagon, an NBC reporter, a defense attorney and a pretty redhead murdered to set up Reacher for her death.

Number of beautiful women Reacher actually connects with: One. I admire his restraint and good taste.

Body count: 13. Five victims of the sniper. Two other men. The pretty redhead. Four thugs. Then the puppet master. I may be missing one or two, but I don’t think so.

Overall: 4.75 glasses of bourbon out of 5.

Sidenote: Yes, it is true — and tragic — that Tom Cruise is starring at Reacher in the big screen adaptation of ONE SHOT. Do not like. Reacher is giant, stone-cold blond, a one-man wrecking crew. Cruise is rather short and hyper. Not a good fit.

Out of fairness, I destroy my favorite genre: thrillers

Daniel Craig put the studliness back into James Bond -- no more invisible cars and silly nonsense. Also, he is blond, and can kill you with a spoon.
Daniel Craig put grittiness into James Bond — no more invisible cars and silly nonsense. He makes you believe he could kill you with a spoon.

Top Ten Thriller Clichés

Act I: A wealthy, disfigured foreigner toils late into the night

1. The Villain of the Week is a wealthy, disfigured foreigner who (a) steals a nuclear warhead, (b) plans to kidnap the president or (c) discovers a lock of Hitler’s hair and is busy cloning the Führer.

2. The Standard Hero is tall, dark and deadly. He used to work for the government, wears anything as long as it’s black — wet suit, tuxedo or cat-burglar outfit — and solves every problem by beating it up, blowing it up or sleeping with it.

3. The Villain of the Week has an endless army of faceless minions except for two people: (a) the femme fatale, who has a special bond with our hero because her wardrobe is also exclusively black, just tighter, and (b) a giant, impossibly strong thug who never speaks and has a signature way of killing people.

Act II: The Standard Hero wakes from his slumber to blow things up

4. The hero is out of the business and cares nothing for money, but the state appeals to his patriotism — or the villain kills his wife/girlfriend.

5. Although our hero is a lone wolf, he must now work with a team, including (a) one beautiful young sidekick who knows kung fu almost as well as the Kama Sutra and (b) a science nerd who provides exploding pens and tech support. He will also have (c) a Bureaucratic Boss, who will suspend our hero, then turn out to be a mole working for the Villain of the Week.

6. If the president isn’t involved, the prime minister of Britain shows up, plus a politician involved in the conspiracy, who will either be a slick, greedy senator with a southern accent or an ancient and decadent member of the House of Lords.

7. Between car chases and explosions, the femme fatale tries to kill the hero, who bests her, making her decide to sleep with him. This is how you know she is doomed.

Act III: The Big Showdown ends in a fist fight; never mind all the guns

7. The hero infiltrates the villain’s lair with the help of the femme fatale, who betrays him. The villain doesn’t kill him right off. He delegates death-by-torture to the femme fatale, who sets the hero free, then turns bad again at the last minute so she can have a long catfight with the beautiful sidekick.

8. After our hero kills countless minions, he faces the invincible giant. The hero uses the invincible giant’s signature killing move against him.

9. Despite the carpet of dead thugs clutching AK-47s, the Villain of the Week decides to fight the hero bare handed as the lair self-destructs. The Standard Hero dispatches the villain by (a) tossing him down an endless chasm, (b) impaling him on a massive spike or (c) throwing him down a chasm that ends in a massive spike.

10. Nothing changes. Our hero doesn’t change or grow — he’ll be back for more in the sequel.The world doesn’t change. The average person in Cleveland has no idea anything happened at all.