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Mission: Impossible 3

Based on the hit TV series from the 1960s,

Mission: Impossible 3

offers Tom Cruise in his third outing as IMF agent Ethan Hunt. This time out, however, the mission has personal overtones. The film begins at the end (or near the end) with Hunt handcuffed to a chair and being given a choice by Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman): he can either tell him where "The Rabbit's Foot" is or he can watch as Davian kills the new Mrs. Hunt (Michelle Monaghan). Hunt begs and pleads but Davian counts to ten and BANG! Is she dead? Well if you know anything about Hollywood blockbusters, I'm sure you can guess the correct answer. But the film, seemingly very satisfied with its "clever" open, flashes back in time to an engagement party for Hunt and his bride to be Julia.

Hunt has apparently quit working in the field and only trains agents. He's preparing to settle down into a happy, "normal" life with his new girlfriend Julia who has no clue what he does for a living. She thinks he has a boring job working for the transportation department. But on the night of their party, Hunt gets a call that Lindsey (Keri Russell), a young agent he trained, has been abducted by Davian, a particularly nasty arms dealer, and is likely to be killed if he doesn't rescue her. So Hunt feigns a business trip and heads to Germany with a crack team that includes Luther (Ving Rhames), Declan (John Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q). They get Lindsey out but the twisted Davian had implanted an explosive charge in her head and he detonates it remotely to kill her.

Now Hunt wants Davian. An elaborate trap is set involving The Vatican, which makes what may be a calculated appearance here before figuring more prominently in The Da Vinci Code later this month. This sets in motion a very personal game of revenge between Hunt and Davian, which will culminate in the scene that started the film with Davian shooting Julia'or does he? There's also some intradepartmental foul play and time for a lot of things to blow up and get shot up. The film also employs ingenious disguises as the old TV show did.

M:I:3 pretty much owns this weekend with all the other studios steering their releases clear of what's become Paramount's most financially successful franchise. This expensive, by-the-numbers production delivers enough action value to probably pack the theaters for opening weekend' since there's nothing else out to see. Yet there's nothing memorable about this third Mission: Impossible outing except that it can boast an Oscar-winner'Phillip Seymour Hoffman who won this year's best actor nod for Capote'as its villain.

The film also carries some buzz because it is directed by J.J. Abrams, the creator of TV's Alias . But Abrams doesn't bring anything fresh to the series; he just directs with a straightforward matter of factness that makes M:I:3 serviceable but not very exciting. Of course he's not helped in any way by his screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the pair who brought us last summer's fiasco, The Island . Except for throwing the end bit at the beginning, this film movies in a very direct, linear path toward a predictable end.

The first impossible mission facing this film is to breathe life into Tom Cruise. Even as an action hero that's not necessarily in need of depth or emotion, Cruise still can't find real life in the character. Instead we get Cruise doing his standard shtick as Ethan Hunt: he gets intense, makes his veins pop and runs with great determination. But he has no particular flair for action and is unable to provide much grit to the character. An Asian star like Chow Yun Fat could lend the character some physical grace, or someone like Clive Owen could lend him some grit and intensity, but Cruise's Hunt is just rather plain. Monoghan's Julia is merely a plot device and her profession of nursing proves to be nothing more than a plot convenience if not contrivance. Hoffman goes through the motions of villainy as Davian without ever bringing him to particularly nasty life. The only actor who puts some bite into his performance is Laurence Fishburne as Hunt's superior, but then he does have the film's only good lines. And one bright spot is the brief appearance of Simon Pegg (Shaun of the brilliant rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead ) as a nervous, nerdy tech guy who worries about his immigration status as he helps Hunt break a few rules. Pegg (who also did the cult British series Spaced ) is developing his own fan base and I heard at least a half dozen people (including my son) exclaim "That's Shaun," when Pegg appeared on screen.

Now I hate to harp on this again but as an action film junkie I still can't understand why American films (with a few exceptions like The Matrix) deliver such mundane action. They make a lot of noise and blow a lot of things up but they lack cleverness when it comes to devising action sequences. They focus on big rather than inventive scenes. Take two scenes in M:I:3 : a fight in an elevator and an elaborate prisoner escape on a bridge. The elevator scene takes place in a confined space with Hunt strapped down on a gurney. As he manages to get one hand free, he fights off a few guys as he tries to cut free his other restraints. This scene has the beginnings of an exciting fight that could make use of the props on hand and the cramped quarters. In a Jackie Chan film, this would have lasted a good five minutes or so and displayed some jaw-dropping choreography that would elicit "oohs" and "aahs" from the audience. But in M:I:3 , it's just a quick scene with wasted potential. Yet Abrams does manage to find plenty of time to spend on an escape scene that predictably blows up cars and chunks of a bridge. But there's no tension, no suspense and no surprises. I know I have a bias toward Asian action films but that's because they handle action so much better'be it over the top or more grounded in reality. Asian fight choreographers just seem to know how to make action more cinematic and with an emphasis on the "motion" in motion pictures. M:I:3 , which is less grounded in the real world than say The Bourne Identity , could benefit from a more stylish brand of action (which it had briefly when John Woo directed the first sequel).

And since I mentioned that M:I:3 is not grounded in reality, let me just mention one scene that stood out for its stupidity. When agent Zhen arrives at the Vatican party she wears a slip of a red dress that has barely enough fabric to hide a weapon. The only reason for the dress is for a sexy car commercial style shot of her making a leggy exit from her sporty car. In the first place, who would wear something like that to the Vatican and in the second place, shouldn't a secret agent wear something that would make her stand out a little less?

M:I:3 (rated PG-13 for action violence) is summer action filler'it simply fills the studio's need for a seasonal blockbuster, but it's put together like something on an assembly line. As far as recent Hollywood actioners go, I prefer the lean efficiency of The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy , or the silly extravagance of The Transporter films. -----

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