Mission Impossible III

May, 2006, Thriller

Directed by:J. J. Abrams

Starring:Tom Cruise, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

It’s big. It’s excruciatingly noisy. It atavistically destroys its own extravagant sets and technological gadgets like a crazed mother devouring her offspring. It features a plot so incomprehensible you’d need someone with a PhD in semiotics, (backless evening dresses at a cocktail reception in The Vatican?) to decipher what’s going on. What is it? 

God help us, it’s Tom Cruise in MI III, kicking off the start of this summer’s blockbuster season. 

Franchise movies, especially those built around easily recognized comic book characters, (Superman, Batman, Spiderman, X-men, et al) have become a staple of Hollywood’s efforts to lure out-of-school-for-the-summer audiences with movies that are long on special effects and short on things like fully developed characters, interesting stories and compelling performances. Movies this time of year are like ice cream treats from a roving Good Humor truck; nicely chilled comfort food to stave off the season’s heat and humidity. Since we’re not talking haute cuisine here, how does this one stack up? 

Actor/producer Cruise and his hand-picked director-buddy J.J. Abrams have amped up the persona of Ethan Hunt, the protagonist in this series, providing him with a blushing bride and a hand-picked team of support personnel in pursuit of Owen Davian, (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) a notoriously depraved arms dealer who likes to dispatch his opponents by inserting, (via nasal cavity) miniaturized explosives into their brains. (Wouldn’t an arms dealer have the wherewithal to just shoot them?) Hunt tracks Davian from Berlin to Rome to Shanghai, blowing things sky high with the enthusiasm of demonic teenager, somehow managing to elude the best efforts of traitors inside his own organization to thwart him. 

What III lacks in subtly it more than compensates for with hyperkinetic activity; there are enough explosions, small arms fire and rocket attacks here to satisfy the most action-addled fan while editors Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey provide a split-second, frenetic pacing that’s perfectly matched to the desperate intensity of the movie’s dizzying storyline. A host of fine actors round out the cast, (Lawrence Fishburne, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers) but they do little more than provide opportunities for Cruise to demonstrate his star power; this is a vanity piece for the movie’s lead, pure and simple.

The action hurdles III’s muddled plot forward with surprising visceral punch and Hoffman’s fish-eyed depravity provides a villain worthy of Cruise’s inflated hero, but the star needs to exercise some caution; he’s endanger of becoming a cartoon rather than merely playing one. This one-time seminarian turned Scientologist now approaches his 44th birthday and if he doesn’t stop taking himself so seriously in these bubble gum roles, he’s in danger of making his on screen persona as goofy as the guy he appears to be in real life.

If mayhem’s your game, this one’s tailored made. If not, don’t bother; Mr. Cruise will undoubtedly find lots of eager ticket buyers to swell his already sizable fortune. 


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