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 V.15 No.18 | May 4 - 10, 2006 

Film Review

Mission: Impossible III

Stuff blows up: Don’t trouble yourself over why or how

“Give her some air, people, she’s been knocked silly by an unexpected plot twist.”
“Give her some air, people, she’s been knocked silly by an unexpected plot twist.”

Mission: Impossible III

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Cast: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames

Raise your right hand and repeat after me: “I swear if I go see Mission: Impossible III this weekend I will not engage my brain. I will not attempt to figure out the film’s convoluted plot. I will avert my gaze from the gaping plot holes. And I will restrict my comments to such casual observations as my, but the explosions look lovely this time of year.”

See, I realize that, as a humble film reviewer, I have no power against the couch-jumping, actress-impregnating, Xenu-battling juggernaut that is Tom Cruise. By the same token, I can do nothing to slow the opening summertime salvo of Universal Pictures’ $150 million sequel-monster Mission: Impossible III. Barring some massive groundswell of Cruise hatred or sequel fatigue, it’s guaranteed to be one of the top three box office hits of the year. I figure the least I can do is fully prepare people for the experience.

Mission: Impossible III finds the blockbuster franchise taken over by TV whiz J.J. Abrams (the man behind “Alias” and “Lost”). With Abrams firmly entrenched behind the camera, writing duties have fallen largely to the duo of Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci. Despite a résumé that includes such muddle-headed offerings as The Island and The Legend of Zorro, Kurtzman and Orci have created what could be the most clearheaded of the Mission: Impossible films. Unfortunately, Mission: Impossible and Mission: Impossible II were two of the most confused piles of gobbledygook ever smeared onto typing paper. (Who shot who in the what now?) So saying that M:i:III is the clearest isn’t to imply that the film makes the slightest logical sense.

M:i:III is essentially an excuse to execute one breathtaking action sequence after another. We’ve got a heart-stopping helicopter chase through a windmill field in Germany. We’ve got a tensely timed break-in at the Vatican. We’ve got a rooftop parachute jump from a high-rise in Shanghai. But what we don’t have is a discernible thread connecting all these explosive events. Clearly, the film’s creators came up with the globe-hopping action sequences first, then stitched on the ragged narrative fiber that strings them (loosely) together.

As things get underway, one of the secret agents that Tom Cruise--sorry, Ethan Hunt--trained has been kidnapped by some evil international arms dealer named Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Our man Hunt is pulled out of semiretirement to rescue her and joins forces with the rest of his Impossible Mission Force (hulking black dude Ving Rhames, wisecracking Irish lad Jonathan Rhys Meyers and sexy Asian babe Maggie Q).

Naturally, things go wrong, sparking the ire of Hunt’s big boss (surly Laurence Fishburne) and setting off the vengeful spirit of eeeeeevil Mr. Dravian. The standard twists, turns, double crosses and last-second rescues follow, delivered with all the delicate pacing of a fully automatic machine gun.

Abrams proves he’s got the mettle to handle this sort of big-budget assignment. The action sequences, if laughably tense at moments, do get the old blood flowing. (A ticking clock, a medical crisis, a heat-seaking missile and a deadly cat-and-mouse chase with an attack helicopter--all in one scene, kids!) The actors pull off their “characters” (consisting of little more than a name) with the occasional wink-and-a-smile. Though Cruise, Rhames, Meyers and Ms. Q make up roughly the most conspicuous bunch of undercover agents ever to grace the big screen, they are fun to watch. Hoffman looks like he’s having a bit of a laugh slumming it in a big Hollywood blockbuster--although his screaming, spittle-filled villain might as well be named “Dr. Evil,” for all his subtlety of character and purpose.

The majority of the film’s plot revolves around the kidnapping of Hunt’s pretty young wife (Michelle Monaghan from “Boston Public”) and Dravian’s subsequent blackmailing of Hunt into retrieving some unidentified McGuffin (Alfred Hitchcock’s catchall word for “that thing everybody’s killing each other to get”). In an insulting bit of laziness, the screenwriters never even bother to explain what the hell this magical doohickey (known only at “The Rabbit’s Foot”) is. Who cares, right? So long as things blow up in a timely manner.

For the most part, the screenplay builds tension well, beginning with Hunt and his wife on the brink of the most mortal peril, and then leaping backwards to show how they got in this situation. Unfortunately, by the time the film reaches the climax and is obliged to explain the whys and wherefores, things get a little messy. As stated earlier, it’s best not to concern yourself with that. Just sit back, eat your popcorn and watch all the pretty, well-manicured super-spies jump around rooftops and shoot at each other. If you don’t, then Xenu has already won.

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