Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Movie Review: "Mission: Impossible III"

Starring Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Keri Russell and Laurence Fishburne
Directed by J.J. Abrams

Snagged as the third different director of the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, J.J. Abrams (a replacement for Joe Carnahan, who split over creative differences) has definitely got the credentials to put together a good spy yarn. After all, he's the creator of the spy drama "Alias," which is wrapping up its five year run on ABC this month. So it's a bit disappointing that the script, penned by Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci seems to favor brawn over brains.

That's not to say that "Mission: Impossible III" doesn't deliver just what the trailer and commercials promise: action, action and more action. It's just that the bar should be set a bit higher for a creative talent like Abrams, especially when incorporating a cast this good.

Headlining, of course, is Tom Cruise as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, who finds himself in big trouble in the film's gripping first scene. Evil arms dealer Owen Davian (a focused Philip Seymour Hoffman) has got Hunt in a compromising situation, as he seeks the Rabbit's Foot, which is a ... (well, never mind). The opener, complete with a cliffhanger, is actually flashing to a moment later in the film – a common practice in "Alias" and "Lost." Overused or not, it works here and helps introduce Hoffman to the movie much earlier than he would have been otherwise.

Since the end of the second "Mission: Impossible," Hunt has gotten out of field duty and now trains future agents. He's also engaged to Julia (Michelle Monaghan), a personable nurse, who happens to think her fiancé is a highway traffic control engineer. So, when Hunt is naturally called back into the field to save one of his former students (Keri Russell), he starts having to pile up lies on poor Julia. While there are some good scenes between Cruise and Monaghan, the movie's need to keep the pace brisk leaves their relationship a bit underdeveloped.

The rescue attempt by Hunt and his IMF team (played by Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Maggie Q) manages to turn up some evidence of the whereabouts of Davian, a longtime target of the agency's superiors (Billy Crudup and an underused Laurence Fishburne). The team heads off to Vatican City, naturally, to apprehend the villain in a well choreographed and filmed sequence of events. But not to be outdone, Davian has some well armed forces come to his aid in a scene that brings to mind the James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger collaboration, "True Lies."

As the top two stars, Cruise and Hoffman have a few scenes matching up that certainly hold your attention, as both demonstrate their characters are willing to go to the brink (if not beyond) to extract information. But while Hoffman brings a definite menace to his role, it's not really a well defined character.

Cruise certainly shows an anything goes approach to the physical side of his role, and this marks the first film of the three to venture much into his personal life. Still, it doesn't quite feel like enough, as there still seems to be a lack of emotional investment in this character for audiences. And by the third act, when the film crosses paths with its opening scene, there's not a lot of surprises to reveal, and the film's credibility threatens to buckle under the weight of one action sequence too many.

But as far as summer escapism fun at the movies goes, it's mostly mission accomplished. However, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is don't think about it too much afterwards.

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of frenetic violence and menace, disturbing images and some sensuality.)

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