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‘Mission Impossible' formulaic and amusing

Jokier and more obviously derivative, “Mission: Impossible-Rogue? Nation” is the funniest “MI” picture, and maybe the worst of the series.

It’s still an amusing Greatest Hits package, with Tom Cruise anchoring the action in a story that borrows from thrillers going back decades.

You want formulaic set ups? How about an assassination during an opera?

Tom torture? Done in a dimly lit dungeon in London, no less.

Hackneyed dialogue?

“He knows about Casablanca.”

Not the classic Bogart movie, mind you, the city in Morocco, home to the most sophisticated sea-water-cooled (!?) computer data storage facility this side of FIFA. Ethan Hunt has to hold his breath a really long time to crack that.

Christopher McQuarrie’s script drags us from Belarus to Washington, Vienna to London and…Casablanca. But then, you know about Casablanca.

The Impossible Mission Force is under government threat - again. This time the CIA chief (Alec Baldwin) gets them de-funded. But Ethan Hunt is still in the field, still chasing rogue agents from scores of different agencies, all tucked under the neat name of “The Syndicate.”

Rebecca Ferguson is Ilsa, the Syndicate insider who may be Ethan’s savior, or his worst nightmare. And a reptilian Sean Harry (“Prometheus”) is the mysterious Mr. Big of “The Syndicate,” whose motives are as haphazard as the McQuarrie (“Usual Suspects,””Jack Reacher”) script that presents them to us. The jokes are self-referential - Pegg’s Benjy chuckling whenever somebody else says something is “Impossible,” laughing because Ethan Hunt does the impossible. Every time. Self-mockery? A handicap of the lesser Bond films, BTW.

Cruise has aged into a guy with more gravitas, though his acting here is broad (big BIG indicators) masquerading as subtle. The rest of his IMF team - Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, are showing their years and more comical than ever.

Cruise, however, will not go gently into that Stallone-and-stuntman “Expendable” night. That’s him, strapped to a cargo plane as it takes off in the pre-credits gambit, which everybody’s already seen on the Internet. And there’s an epic, Tom-does-his-own-riding motorcycle chase through the oddly empty streets and later winding roads outside of Casablanca.

These movies, produced by J.J. Abrams, have become a showcase for set-piece gimmicks and gadgets, and “MI:5” has a few of those - most a tad underwhelming.

But Ferguson (TV’s “The White Queen”) suggests aloof calculation, and Cruise delivers fair value - as always. He makes the perfect straight-man to his amusing ensemble of cut-ups and killers.

With a little lucky, younger viewers won’t notice the “Here we go again” nature of America’s Answer to James Bond.

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