Tom Cruise, Jon Voight

The concept is excitingly slick. Take the classic '60s and '70s television series about a team of intelligence operatives and pare it down into a star vehicle, with Tom Cruise alternately giving chase and being chased in a topsy-turvy world of double agents, computer technology and explosives packaged as sticks of gum. And why not? The series doesn't deserve much reverence. It had Lalo Schifrin's unforgettable theme—reprised and Dolbyized here—but otherwise seemed like the Walter Mitty fantasy of a mid-level government bureaucrat.

But when all is said and done, the movie—in which Impossible Missions Force commander Voight dispatches Cruise to stop the theft of a master list of agents—doesn't inspire much reverence either. The Cold War was livelier. (Remember Khrushchev and his shoe? And a little diplomatic number called...the domino effect?) Director Brian De Palma has tossed in a few deluxe action episodes, notably one staged in the hushed bowels of CIA headquarters. But Impossible just flows along at a predictable clip with the occasional predictable turn. Luggage carousels do the same.

Cruise, as usual, works gruelingly hard, and not for one second are you allowed to forget it. The trademark devices—boyish smile, piercing gaze, shrill bursts of anger—are whipped out with an eager, exaggerated snap. The performance feels like boot camp. By contrast, Vanessa Redgrave, laughingly vamping her way through a tiny but crucial role as a spy of a certain age, infuses the movie with glamor and high comedy. She's Mata Hari as a career woman. (PG-13)

Dennis Quaid, Sean Connery, David Thewlis, Julie Christie

Playing with fire pays off here, but only briefly. When Draco, the dragon hero of this sword-and-sorcery adventure, gleefully snorts huge, gleaming fireballs at his opponents, it's one neat trick. All that's missing is Quaid slipping once again into his Jerry Lee Lewis threads and singing the title song from his 1989 movie Great Balls of Fire! on the soundtrack.

Flaming missiles alone, though, cannot save the uninspired Dragonheart from terminal tepidness. Despite its title, this muddled tale about a knight (Quaid) and a dragon (Connery provides the voice) who team up to defeat an evil king (Thewlis) lacks real heart. Mostly this is a vehicle for those clever techies at Industrial Light & Magic and their computer-generated monsters. Draco is indeed far more expressive than his big-footed forebears King Kong and Godzilla, but he's never quite as charming as intended.

Quaid, bearded and wearing his hair long and matted, affects a deep gruff voice that makes him sound like Foghorn Leghorn. Connery tries for humor, but even the Great Scot can't do much with lines like, "I chewed [humans] in self-defense. I never swallowed." Christie, missing from movies for six years, plays Thewlis's mom, her face an incandescent bulb encased in a wimple. What could she have been thinking? (PG-13)

Leslie Nielsen, Andy Griffith

Title notwithstanding, Die Hard and its sequels seem like the only modern films to escape the satiric slings of this haphazardly executed send-up. Among the movies that are the butt of its jokes, the in-

spiration for parody or the subjects of transient allusion are Speed, Home Alone, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park and Sister Act, as well as the less predictable Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Nielsen plays a kind of aging James Bond combating evil mastermind Griffith. (There are also some inspired cameos by Ray Charles, as a bus driver, and Dr. Joyce Brothers, as a commando who criticizes bad guys' lack of self-esteem.) Director Rick Friedberg is a crony of Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers; anyone seeking a consistently funny spy sendup would be better off with the latter trio's 1984 spoof Top Secret! (PG-13)

>Antonio Banderas

PRETTY POISON?

WHAT IS IT ABOUT ANTONIO BANDERAS? To all appearances, the 35-year-old Spanish actor is a major star. Two weeks ago he made international headlines with his marriage to Melanie Griffith, and with those bedroom eyes—and hair, lips and torso—he can always be found on Hollywood's short list of sex symbols. "He comes into our lives like Valentino in the '20s," says Richard Donner, the veteran director (Superman, Lethal Weapon) who cast Banderas and Sylvester Stallone as rival hit men in last year's Assassins. But since making his Hollywood debut in 1992's The Mambo Kings, Banderas—playing everything from nurse (Miami Rhapsody) to potential psycho (Never Talk to Strangers) to twins (Two Much)—has been a big box office disappointment.

Actually, that's being nice. Two Much made $1.1 million. And his latest film, Of Love and Shadows, is getting only a limited release. (Valentino, by the way, had just five years of superstardom before dying of peritonitis in 1926.)

Banderas can boast of one modest hit, Desperado, which cost $7 million and earned $25 million domestically. But Donner feels Banderas can't be blamed for losers like Assassins. "There's so much that can go wrong when you're making a movie," he says. "A picture is a picture. If it's not there, nobody's going to come." Rhapsody director David Frankel agrees but adds, "There are people looking at his track record and saying, 'Geez, he's expensive, and what do we get for it?' "

For roughly $4 million, Banderas offers a smoldering presence and a very un-Hollywood attitude about career management. "All he does is work," says Frankel. In Spain, where he began acting at 14 and ranks as the preeminent male star, Banderas has some 40 movie credits. His films there with director Pedro Almodovar (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) were what first brought him to the attention of American audiences. But now that Hollywood's got 'im, says Rhapsody casting director Rene Rousselot, "he's dangerously close to being overexposed. It gets a little tiring after a while."

And getting closer. He is now finishing up Evita and in July will start production on The Mask of Zorro. ("He is Zorro," says producer Elizabeth Avellan.) And there's a project in development called Hollywood Zen. He plays Valentino.

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Betty Cortina.