U.S. Release Date: May 5, 2006
Distributor: Paramount
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writer: J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
Producer: Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner
Composer: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Eddie Marsan, Laurence Fishburne
Running Time: 2 hours and 6 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of frenetic violence and menace, disturbing images and some sensuality)

Do Not Accept This Mission
by Scott Holleran

Superstar Tom Cruise puts his perennially adolescent persona to the latest live action video game, Mission: Impossible III, and comes up with another non-stop assault on the senses.

Designed to promote Cruise, Mission: Impossible III is standard action stuff from beginning to end. Cars blow up, rockets scream toward their target and a tormented protagonist—Cruise in his third outing—bounces around as if he is made of rubber.

Cruise's retired agent Ethan, now a trainer, is in love with a young woman (Michelle Monaghan, resembling actress Liv Tyler and Cruise's real-life girlfriend Katie Holmes), which is like watching a soda pop commercial. It's a choppy introduction to the theme, if one can call it that, that work and love can co-exist.

During a party to celebrate the couple's union, Cruise is beckoned to a convenience store, where he meets his boss (Billy Crudup). His mission: rescue a kidnapped female agent (Keri Russell, watchable as always) whom he trained. She's being held by Team Villain, led by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his first role since winning the Oscar for Capote.

Action is admittedly not this writer's favorite genre and, having happily avoided seeing the first two in this franchise, very loosely based on a suspenseful TV drama, Mission: Impossible III was not a top choice. That said, it is not as terrible as was expected. For those who prefer action devoid of thought, it is downright acceptable.

As the ear-splitting intervention unfolds in Berlin, Cruise loses an agent, whose flat-lined facial expression haunts him. He attends the funeral, flashes back and prepares for the next jaunt, all while trying to prove to his third-time cohort, Ving Rhames, that marriage can be compatible with career. Two others on the team, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and someone named Maggie Q, play along purely for show. Nothing lasts much longer than a couple of seconds.

Next stop, the Vatican, which is believable if you accept that technology can conjure a perfect likeness of another human being—voice, hair and face—in under a few minutes. Whizzing by to avoid even a nanosecond of scrutiny, this section is the most thrilling, though it is completely implausible, with a chi-chi cocktail party inside the Vatican, manholes, men's rooms and, naturally, a briefcase. This time, Cruise gets the job done.

He inexplicably loses his temper, presumably tossing out ten years of Impossible Mission Force (IMF) training in an embarrassingly histrionic display in which his identity becomes known to Hoffman's snide villain. Faster than you can say True Lies, a bridge is ambushed, the wife is taken captive ala Patriot Games and it's off to communist China to watch Cruise do his robotic running like he did in his last picture, the unbearable War of the Worlds.

As he did in that movie, Cruise wells up repeatedly, befitting the picture's dominant emotion: chronic fear. Cruise does his regular routine of facial expressions and postures—cocky, intense, victimized—and includes the Risky Business sunglasses.

The action, something to do with a conspiracy involving Hoffman's weapons dealer, is too quick, jerky and hard to follow, heavy on close-ups, with plot and character development in low gear and hokey dialog that doesn't match. But the big caboodle bumps and bustles. It's not here to make sense.

As the top IMF dude, Laurence Fishburne, slumming after his superior Akeelah and the Bee, adds stature, and the cast, on screen for what feels like eight minutes per actor, enters and exits on cue. The movie, pumped, zipped and ready to ship, belongs to Cruise, still filling the screen with his practiced smirk and making all the right moves in the wrong direction.

Buy on DVD
DVD Notes
Those who worship Tom Cruise will appreciate having Mission: Impossible III on two-disc DVD. The multiple extras, culled from the same sources and fired up by the standard millisecond interview clips, are all about promoting the movie's star.

He's everywhere across the board, in Inside the IMF, 22 cold, mechanical minutes of what amounts to an extended trailer, in Mission: Action, 25 minutes of scripted references to the picture as an example of great storytelling, and he's in Visualizing the Mission, a ten-minute technical jargon spiel with director J.J. Abrams using the term previz (short for computer-generated pre-visualization of a scene) as a verb. Watching each feature in succession is an immersion in redundancy.

A logical tutorial about computer effects might have been interesting—these guys, seen in flashes, seem brilliant—and it's certainly fun to see how the mask at the Vatican was made, thanks to a low-tech artist named Syd Mead that Abrams insisted on using. Soon it's back to Tom Cruise in an embarrassing advertisement disguised as an unscripted session between the actor and his director.

The low point comes with Launching the Mission, in which the viewer is subjected to watching Tom Cruise flit about Manhattan on motorcycle, helicopter, speedboat, Ford Mustang, a fire truck and a limousine—calling out: "you can jump on my couch anytime!"—in a manic episode billed as "four premieres in four hours." It's an assault based on noise, teeth and public relations.

Mr. Cruise's commentary with Abrams positions the director as deferential to the star, who points out a scene which he remembers as the day that someone named Kate—presumably his girlfriend, actress Katie Holmes—learned she was pregnant. Together, they mock Paramount's majestic logo and praise one another—"no one runs like Tom Cruise," Abrams swoons—and refer to an occasional consistency error.

The slip-case package includes five deleted scenes, a gallery, trailers and the 28-minute Making of the Mission, in which the best piece on the discs appears—a deconstruction of the bridge scene that was mostly shot on a set in Calabasas, California. Here, too, though, there are countless references to Tom Cruise hitting the car in that scene, a reminder that this is less a movie than an amplified video game—with the purpose of a celebrity infomercial.

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