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If you see 'Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol' over the long holiday -- which, according to Hollywood release patterns, starts today; what are you still doing at work? -- take special note of Hendricks, the mysterious evil mastermind who wants to star global thermonuclear war. Scary! In the hands of a gifted thespian, it's the type of turn that could be all mustache twirls and scenery chews. Unfortunately, Michael Nyqvist is apparently not that gifted thespian.

The Swedish acting veteran had quite a 2011, provided his main goal was to infuse Hollywood action blockbusters with copious amounts of stock villainy. In September, he played the treacherous assassin out to kill Taylor Lautner in the laughable 'Abduction'; in 'Ghost Protocol,' he's out to defeat Taylor Lautner Sr. Tom Cruise. For his characters, neither attempt goes to plan (that's a spoiler alert only if you've never actually seen an action movie before); for Nyqvist, the results are similarly disappointing. 'Abduction' barely made a dent at the box office, which might be for the best since Nyqvist is so damn uninspiring as the heavy. He's equally bland in 'Ghost Protocol,' but judging from early box-office returns, his anonymity won't last much longer.

In 'M:I4,' it's not all Nyqvist's fault. Maybe. After all, he's playing the franchise's latest villain, which means he has to follow the deliciously scene-stealing work from Philip Seymour Hoffman in entry three. As Owen Davian, Hoffman got to sneer lines like, "We put an explosive charge in your head," with detached disdain and bemusement. Nyqvist's Hendricks doesn't have any of those opportunities, and instead seems like some robotic boogeyman. With the exception of a final parking garage throw-down with Cruise, Nyqvist has precious little interaction with the franchise's big star. That's a scripting issue, and it hurts the end product: for a movie as fun as 'Misson Impossible 4,' the stakes feel preciously low, despite the central plot dealing with the launching of nuclear weapons and the likely coming of World War III.

Of course, Nyqvist doesn't do the limp script any favors. The dude looks like he's sitting in the middle of the worst conference call of his life throughout most of 'Ghost Protocol.' Best known previously for his work as Mikael Blomkvist in the Swedish version of 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' you keep waiting for him to affect a facial expression that doesn't look so tepid. That never comes, not even when -- spoiler alert -- Hendricks decides to make a difficult sacrifice to keep the world on course for demolition.

It's ironic-ish that Nyqvist has a major Hollywood blockbuster arriving less than two weeks after Noomi Rapace, the Lisbeth to his intrepid Mikael, made her own underwhelming U.S. debut in 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.' These are the next breakout imports? Perhaps their charms are lost in translation? Or maybe playing damaged people like Mikael and Lisbeth sucked the fun out of Michael and Noomi? Good rhetorical questions! Regardless, at least Rapace will have a chance to turn things around with her role in 'Prometheus'; Nyqvist has a pair of indies on his upcoming docket and little else. Though if the producers of 'A Good Day to Die Hard' need a nondescript villain for their latest John McClane blockbuster, here's guessing he'll get the call.

[Photo: Paramount]



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