Mission: Impossible III

While 1996’s Mission: Impossible featured some wild action scenes -- remember that helicopter in the train tunnel? -- it was mostly memorable for Brian De Palma’s stylish direction and a screenplay that left too many moviegoers vigorously scratching their heads. The 2000 sequel elected to focus more on the wham-pow-bang factor, but as (over)directed by John Woo, the movie proved to be a soulless enterprise. For Mission: Impossible III, instead of going for an established director like De Palma and Woo, Paramount Pictures and producer-star Cruise elected to take a chance on J.J. Abrams, who began his career as a scripter of mediocre movies (Armageddon, Regarding Henry) before being born again as the creator of the acclaimed TV hits Alias and Lost. Even if this turns out to be the last movie in the series, Abrams at least ensures it’s being sent off on a high note. Ethan Hunt has had a reassignment since we last saw him: He’s no longer working as a field agent but rather as an instructor of new recruits, thus allowing him to spend more time with his blissfully out-of-the-loop fiancee Julia (Michelle Monaghan). But a dangerous mission beckons, and of course he chooses to accept it. This mission is also tainted with a whiff of the personal, as he learns that his best student, Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell, star of Abrams’ first series Felicity), has disappeared while investigating the shady affairs of weapons dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). He agrees to take charge of a rescue team consisting of Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q). Look, I’m as sick of hearing about Cruise’s offscreen nonsense as anyone else. But the great thing about the magic of the movies is that it immerses us in fantasy worlds that more often than not allow us to disengage from real-life baggage. In other words, Cruise is accomplished -- and canny -- enough to know that a well-oiled summer flick is just the item to make us all forgive him -- at least temporarily -- for his indiscretions. Yet the performance of note in Mission: Impossible III belongs to Philip Seymour Hoffman, fresh from winning an Oscar for last fall’s Capote. It’s a compliment when I state that Hoffman’s Owen Davian would have made a formidable Bond villain, and it’s a shame that the part isn’t much larger. But Owen’s icy stare and reptilian movements make it clear that he’s as ruthless as he is humorless, and when a woman spills a drink on him during a fancy soiree, his look suggests that he’d kill her on the spot if it weren’t for those hundreds of pesky eyewitnesses surrounding them. ƒç


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