Mission: Impossible III

Cast:
Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt
Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell
Keri Russell as Lindsey
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Owen Davian
Bahar Soomekh as Ms. Kari
Laurence Fishburne as Brassel
Billy Crudup as John Musgrave
Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn
Michelle Monaghan as Julia
Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Declan
Maggie Q as Zhen

Review:
The latest in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, “Mission: Impossible III” is high on intrigue, but a bit too obvious in its construction to be as affecting as it tries to be.

Each “Mission: Impossible” film, by design, is different than every other, tending to take on the characteristics of the filmmakers making it, so it’s no surprise that this iteration from “Alias” and “Lost” mastermind J.J. Abrams, making his directorial debut, greatly resembles his television work – particularly “Alias” – while taking advantage of films’ ability to do large and stunning set pieces, of which M:i:III has several and all are generally very well executed. Abrams loves spy business, and he and his co-screenwriters have cooked up several excellent ones, starting with former-spy-come-secret-agent-instructor Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) rescue of his captured protégé (Keri Russell). It’s a great opening action sequence, full of twists and turns with action elements occurring on multiple levels and engaging the entire cast. It’s almost too good of a start – none of the other big set pieces ever really top it, though evil arms dealer Davian’s (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) daring mid-day rescue comes close.

Abrams also loves showing the toll the double lives of the spy game take, and bringing the walls between them crashing down. It’s here that the different diameters of feature films work against Abrams, as the relationship between Ethan and his fiancée Julia (Michelle Monoghan) is largely pushed off screen to make room for explosions and chases. It’s good for the adrenaline, but doesn’t really do anything for emotional investment in Ethan’s predicament, the burden of which is largely left on Cruise’s shoulders after Julia is kidnapped. He sells it as well as he can – earnestness is one of his strengths as an actor – but there’s not enough meat on it to work as well as it seems intended to. The film knows where its priorities lie, and it’s not with relationship angst.

The rest of the cast gets the same short shrift, but they’re not really what the movie is about either. Abrams and company make a concerted effort for real character byplay, including a few instances of genuine wit, and Fishburne and Hoffman make great use of the small moments they get. Hoffman in particular seems to be acting in an entirely different movie, instilling his handful of scenes with the true chilling banality of evil. Unlike the last outing, the IMF team actually works like a team – and seems to be having great fun doing so – but it’s very much the Tom Cruise show. The seams start to show in the third act as Abrams falls back on his standard bag of spy-narrative tricks, but it’s enjoyable enough if not as well paced as the first two thirds.

The most action-packed “Mission: Impossible” so far, it’s still a bit empty, despite how hard it tries.

“Mission: Impossible III” is rated PG-13.

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