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Movie Answer Man (06/09/1996)

Q. The plot of "Mission: Impossible," which you said was confusing, could have been worse. Martin Landau recently said that the original "M:I" television cast was contacted to appear in the first 10 minutes of the movie so that they could get killed off. (Steven Bailey, Jacksonville Beach, Fla.)

A. "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to join in a group suicide..."

Q. You wrote about the record-breaking opening of "Mission Impossible," and said the studio was surprised by the numbers. Paramount executives, did as much as they could to guarantee a huge opening. The film played on well over 4,000 screens, more than any film in history. There were advance showings on Tuesday--which, I gather, can be legitimately added to the Wednesday opening's numbers, therefore boosting them even more. "Twister," by comparison, made $36 million, on about half the number of screens, so its per-screen average was much higher. And although "M:I" beat "Jurassic Park's" record by $1 million, it had a lower per-screen average, since "Park" was shown on less than 3,000 screens. (Gregory Tyler, Greenfield, MA)

A. Excellent point. Studio marketing strategies now depend on getting everybody into the tent right away, instead of hoping for long runs. "M:I's" second-weekend receipts at the turnstiles were down sharply, but the movie is already well over $100 million.

Q. I am incredulous that though you picked up on all the major problems with "Mission: Impossible," you nonetheless award it three stars. Granted, there is a nice visual flair to the movie, but since when is that enough to overcome a plot that not only fails to make sense on a logical level, but is wholly unintelligible as a story from the get-go? When critics begin urging audiences to see films that offer nothing more than eye candy, they run the risk of rewarding sloppy filmmakers who more and more these days assume their audience is too stupid to follow a well-thought-out plot. (Joseph Grove, Louisville, Ky.)

A. "Mission: Impossible" is a smart movie--but on a visual and visceral level, not a narrative one. It requires intelligent audiences to enjoy its sophisticated style and jazz-like riffs on other films. Not all intelligence needs be expressed in a linear way. When a movie botches the plot and has nothing else, that's sloppy filmmaking. Example: The European version of "The Vanishing" was a masterpiece of plot and style. The American remake (by the same director) dumbed down the plot and was a wretched movie.

Q. I heard that Keanu Reeves has dropped out of the sequel to "Speed." True or false? (Harris Allsworth, Chicago)

A. True, according to Variety, which reports this week Reeves "would rather play with his fledgling rock band" DogStar than make "Speed II." Reeves will be replaced, and the movie will start filming in September, still toplining Sandra Bullock.

Q. Special effects have almost completely taken over the movies lately. As you mentioned in your review of "Twister," the actors were along for the ride while the special effects put on the show. My wife rented "Jumanji" for the kids the other day. They were watching it, while I was in the office pounding the keyboard. I didn't watch it, but just hearing the incessant SCREAMING by small children and adults in that movie almost drove me NUTS. Anyway, I've come up with a test for an ASEF (annoying special effects flick): Don't watch, just listen to a movie. If all you hear are screams and explosions, and the most sophisticated line of dialog is "Look OUT!", then it's an ASEF. In "Twister" I can't recall a single interesting line, except maybe "I think that's the same cow." Will the rest of the summer riddled with ASEFs? (Matthew J. W. Ratcliff, Villa Ridge, MO)

A. You bet! Summer has become the prime season for stunts, explosions, special effects, sequels, and film versions of TV shows. Distributors with serious, thought-provoking movies hold them until autumn, which is when the Oscar Season unofficially begins.

Q. I just don't get it. I just watched "Bridge On The River Kwai" again. It still holds up well. All of the right ingredients and no bad language or gratuitous violence. Contrast that with almost any big budget, extravaganza today and all you hear is "f--- this" and "f--- that," sandwiched between overblown chases, set pieces and unnecessary violence. Why have the standards changed so much? Don't misread me--I love the new movies as much as the next guy, but I do get weary at times of shock language and unrealistic violence thrown in for no real reason. Don't filmmakers today have any sense of the past? I guess one look at Quentin Tarantino would answer that, though. (Mike Murrow, Wichita, Kan.)

A. I was with you right up to your slam at Tarantino, whose films have opened doors for writers and directors with original approaches--and who does have a sense of the past. I don't object to the language in R-rated films, but what I hate are the PG movies like "Eddie" that throw in a few four-letter words as a deliberate ploy to qualify for PG-13, so that teenagers won't dismiss them as "kids movies."

Q. Have you noticed movie ads on TV? They print the credits in tiny type, just like the posters in front of the movie house. Those things are difficult to read when you have time to stand there and study them. They are impossible on the TV screen with only seconds allowed. (George Bergen, LaGrange, Ky.)

A. You're right: Movie adds on TV usually end with a screen or two containing dozens of names so small no one could possibly read them--but then no one is supposed to;. They're listed simply because of contractual obligations.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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