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Director: JJ Abrams

Producers: Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner, and Arthur Anderson

Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci, and JJ Abram; from the TV series created by Bruce Geller

Cast: Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Laurence Fishburne, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Maggie Q, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Simon Pegg, and Keri Russell


Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to try and understand what the big deal is about this latest entry in another long line of big budget Hollywood sequels to one of the most disappointing spy drama series-turned-movie franchises while still highly profitable. Also it’s the first flick to kick off the 2006 summer movie season, which I seem to have a habit of falling on every year: 2004 with Van Helsing, 2005 with Revenge Of The Sith.

So the Mission Impossible movie franchise, when it hit the scene in 1996, essentially turned the originally ensemble team player oriented series from the 1960s into a vanity vehicle for Tom Cruise to flex his pecs. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt became the center of all things and all missions impossible. Things didn’t work out with director Brian De Palma, but then it came time for MI:2, and the legendary John Woo stepped up, or sort of stepped in would perhaps be a more apt phrase. Much like Total Nonstop Action wrestling on SpikeTV, MI:2 opted for a different approach of “more action, less talk,” mostly responsible for mainstream criticism of original movie. And all politics of who ended up editing or cutting what, MI:2 became one of the biggest hits of the year 2000. Still this dumbed down and further focused approach on the head ramrod, Cruise, continued to take the concept further away from the series. That of an elite team of varied and specialized professionals carrying out missions.

A lot more time passed. Stuff happened, which if you weren’t living under a rock for the last few years, I guess you can figure it out. MI:3 was being kicked around. And as per usual with Tom Cruise, it was time to get a new director in on the game. First it was David Fincher, and then Joe Carnahan, neither of which panned out. And then came JJ Abrams, the creative mind behind such shows as “Felicity”, one of the most prolific shows on network television today in “Lost”, and of course the about to be canned spy drama “Alias”. I assume “Alias” is what got him the job since that’s essentially what MI:3 is, a horrendously big budget and extended episode of “Alias”. Sub Tom Cruise for Jennifer Garner and you get the idea.

So what’s different about MI:3 from the last two films, is that we see Ethan Hunt and how his professional life contrasts and affects his personal one. By the time the movie starts, Ethan’s already traded up Thandie Newton’s Nyah from the second movie to Michelle Monaghan’s Julia. Julia is a lovely nurse who is engaged to Ethan and . . . does not know about his true profession. But it’s cool, Ethan’s retired from the “acrobatic insanity” of field work, opting for agent training instead. But what the fuck? Having the top star and marquee boy of the movie being demoted to a trainer isn’t going to satisfy anybody. No, so one of Ethan’s star trainees, Lindsey (Russell), has been detained during an op, so our plucky hero has to put the gear and gloves back on and kick some terrorist tail!

Ethan’s got a more complete group of back-up this time around in the exotic Zhen (Q), the Irish Declan (Meyers), and of course the only other returning characters from MI and MI:2, Luther (Rhames). IMF has obviously been through another regime change as head brass has switched once again. Gone is Anthony Hopkins and in are Musgrave (Crudup), and Morpheus-turned-dickhead Brassel (Larry Fishburne). Like most action movies, you have the friendly superior officer, and the asshole superior officer. Guess which one will probably be the turncoat?

But this time Ethan’s opponent is more than up to the task, the anti-Cruise, Owen Davian, masterfully performed by master thespian, Philip Seymour Hoffman. I don’t think Hoffman has ever been as slimy and menacing as he is here. And it’s great because we are not used to seeing him as the villain, and Hoffman is such a great actor we know he is capable of a role like this, but Hollywood only wants the top performers to play to type (as Fishburne clearly does here). And it works. If we see more departures like this from Hoffman in Hollywood popcorn movies, I’ll consider myself a lucky duck.

So we have a solid villain, and a tad more filled out team. And make no mistake: we get some nice team op scenes in this film. The scenes where its just the IMF team doing what they should be doing, where everything can go wrong and they meet their deadlines by split seconds are done very well. They are suspenseful and built up nicely. And it’s these scenes that I wanted to see more of. But this is a summer popcorn movie, so it’s got to have lots of car chases, machine guns, missiles, helicopters, car crashes, gratuitous French kissing, and ‘splosions. And make no mistake: things did ‘splode. So much so I felt like I was watching a Michael Bay movie, which I suppose is appropriate seeing as to how Abrams was a writer on Armageddon. And the co-writers were credited on last year’s action crapfest The Island.

I still feel the team and group workings does not have the central focus of the movies that it should. This is still Cruise’s show and no one else’s. Abrams and Cruise would be better served to watch a superior spy series called “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex.” The show has a main character and leader in Major Motoko Kusanagi, but the show knows to give the rest of the ensemble cast ample spotlight. And all the spy stuff, well it’s Alias really, and Abrams just copying himself. The Marshall Flinkman character has now magically morphed into Simon Pegg (of Shaun Of The Dead and “Spaced” perfection) as IMF techie, Benji. But even as a knock-off, clichéd character, Pegg is still bloody marvelous. The premise of Ethan hunt having a double life as a spy he has to hide from his friends and loved ones, already done on “Alias”.

The big plot twist? You should figure it out about five minutes in. It felt utterly predictable and ultimately cheap. Something I cannot say about the first MI film, even if people did think it was overly-complicated.

I won’t call this movie, Mission Impossible: Done Right. I won’t call it phenomenal. It achieves nowhere near the greatness or ingenuity as a spy film that the Bourne series have as of late. But it was decent, fun, and I got a free t-shirt, so I honestly can’t complain too much. I will say one thing to Tom Cruise, and it has nothing to do with Katie Holmes, scientology, the closet, or South Park. Tom: its twenty years later and you are 43. You could’ve exercised more discretion when doing the stupid Top Gun scene in the movie.

This review will self-destruct in five seconds . . .

—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris

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