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Mission: Impossible III Movie Poster

Mission: Impossible III

Genre: Action
Rated: PG-13
Directed by
: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames, Keri Russell, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers
Released by: Paramount Pictures

In Short: Director and co-writer J.J. Abrams’ attempt to humanize the Mission Impossible series nearly pays off in this critic-proof shoot-em-up, which explores why secret agents are usually single.

The Tom Tom Tom Club
Cruise Controls the Action Sequel
by Jeff Hoyt

From his initial painful exhalation—heard against a stark black screen—audiences will wonder, “How is Tom going to escape from that?” as Mission: Impossible III magnificently rockets out of the gate with a shackled and bruised Cruise literally facing a fate worse than death. Watching the star/producer/new daddy/Oprah-couch-pouncer whose celebrity has eclipsed all else, it’s nearly an impossible mission for audiences to forget about the world’s most famous Scientologist and believe they’re watching a secret agent at work. But it’s Tom’s international mega-superstar qualities that guarantee box-office success; suspension of disbelief is neither expected nor required to enjoy the cartoonish carnage and contraptions. For M:i:III, on and off-screen, this time it’s personal.

The opening and gripping cliffhanger leads to a lengthy flashback where we learn that Impossible Mission Force (IMF) agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has left the field and is about to wed his sweetheart. (You’re thinking about Katie Holmes right now, admit it!) But deciding to return to action to rescue an old colleague (Keri Russell) leads to a betrayal and the capture of his love interest (Michelle Monaghan) by international arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Hoffman is is well cast in the role of the villain, having mastered playing creepy ("Happiness,""Boogie Nights") long before taking home an Academy Award. As Ethan and his team tackle more hopeless tasks in order to rescue his love, he debates with series alum Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames) the wisdom of a member of the IMF taking on an M-R-S.

With all the press about Cruise doing his own stunts and getting injured in the process, it’s hard not to watch him leap from one skyscraper to another or bounce off a car without thinking, “That must have hurt.” Ironically, for a special effects-heavy film, key plot points revolve around the IMF squad’s ability to impersonate someone simply by donning a high-tech mask—as if the lithe Tom Cruise could ever be a body double for the much bulkier Philip Seymour Hoffman. (A better match would be Dustin Hoffman.) It’s refreshing to note that in this post-modern cinematic world where virtually anything can be portrayed via special effects, CGI and elaborate post-production, it appears that the scenes where Ethan Hunt pretends to be Owen Davian were simply shot with Hoffman playing Cruise playing Hoffman.

As Ethan attempts to untangle his dangerous career from his family life, the dialog gets hokey, but director and co-writer J. J. Abrams of television’s “Lost” and “Alias” does a fine job balancing the action sequences with the quieter scenes. One of his more memorable shots is of a dog eating spilled food at an engagement party, which does nothing to further the story, but simply lets things breathe. Only after many things get blown up, shot at and destroyed in Berlin, Vatican City, Washington, D.C., and Shanghai does the movie begin to lose its momentum, and the bad guys inexplicably become bumblers. But if they didn't, then Mission: Impossible 4 would be impossible.

(Updated: 07/28/15 JJ)

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