Saturday, May 06, 2006

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible 3

Can we please knock it off with the breathless commentary about whether or not the public revelation that Tom Cruise is apparently a blithering lunatic is going to hurt the man's career? Let's be honest about this: Being unlikable won't have much effect here because this actor was NEVER "likable." That's not to say that he was UN-likable, but rather that being likable was never the big selling-point to this particular star's boxoffice appeal. Tom Hanks is "likable," Tom Cruise on the other hand has made his fortune being recognizable; so it probably doesn't matter what he's recognizable "as." This is especially true for his "Mission: Impossible" franchise, which now in it's third installment continues to exist as NOTHING more than delivery on the promise of one of the most recognizable stars on the planet performing various action-movie stunts.

But, for whatever reason, the four-word premise of "Tom Cruise shooting stuff" has been enough to propell audiences to theaters in droves twice before, and will likely do so again this time. This new one, written and directed by TV wunderkind JJ Abrams, is the best of the set so far but, honestly, what kind of praise is that? The first film is best remembered for being needlessly complex, the second for being stunningly empty even for a Tom Cruise paycheck-peice, so is it really some miracle that this one is better? I guess... but the series STILL has yet to produce a full-blown classic.

But let the good be counted where it is: The plot makes no bones about being unimportant; Cruise's Ethan Hunt and his sidekicks are hunting around for a McGuffin literally called "The Rabbit's Foot," the actual USE of which no one ever stops to explain. Philip Seymour Hoffman has a fun bad guy turn as an arms dealer who is demonstrably so good at getting away with murder that he's bored with it. The plot hands Hunt a brand new wife to get kidnapped and rescued, a humanizing touch that plays out as such a bald-faced cliche it's kind of marvelous to see it actually trotted out in an actual movie; but she's played with conviction by "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang's" Michelle Monaghan, so there's that.

So the movie is decent, it's action scenes work, and yet... is this REALLY the best they can do? The SOLE requirement for the boxoffice topper-status of these is that Cruise shows up onscreen firing some kind of weapon and this is STILL all they can come up with? It took a few solid decades for the James Bond films to grow timid of doing anything risky or special... this series was already there before it started.